And we are now done with the first quarter of 2022. It still feels surreal how time zoomed past us. I hope that the first three months of 2022 have been great and kind to you and to your family. Otherwise, I hope things will start looking up in the coming days and that the rest of the year will be a prosperous one. I am also fervently hoping that COVID19 will fully be eradicated. Reading-wise, I have been regaining the momentum I lost towards the end of 2021. While there was a bit of a slowdown in February, the first quarter of the year has been quite hectic. When March started, I barely had any iota on what my March reading journey is going to look like.
Just when I found myself in an impasse, I was reminded that in March we celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8) and that March is also Women’s History Month. With this in mind, I resolved to dedicate March to reading works by female writers. Overall, it was a successful reading journey as these works transported me to various parts of the world while at the same time, providing me with deep insights on different subjects, both local and universal. By the end of the month, I was able to complete 10 books, tying my output in January 2022. Here is a peek into how my March reading journey went.
The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk
Kicking off my March reading journey is Nobel Laureate in Literature Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob. I was initially not too keen on reading the book for I was daunted. It was, after all, the book cited by the Swedish Academy as her magnum opus, so far. But then I realized that if this was the best of her oeuvre, then it should be a no-brainer that I read it. I did like my first two Tokarczuk novels, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and Flights. The latter, in particular, was mind-boggling but was a unique experience. The Books of Jacob offered the same level of experience. Originally published in 2014 as Ksiegi Jakubowe, it was finally translated into English in 2021. At the heart of the story was the eponymous Jacob Frank, a controversial but charismatic religious leader, and mystic. However, his story was more of a vessel to paint the transformation taking place in 18th century eastern Europe. Like Flights, the book was brimming with historical contexts. What both books share was Tokarczuk’s rebellious spirit which refused to be limited by literary norms. Sure, it was no easy read but The Books of Jacob is, without a doubt, a stellar work of historical fiction. The book was recently longlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize, her second time being nominated for the award after Flights won it all in 2018.
The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen
It was in late 2021 that I first came across Danish poet Tove Ditlevsen. I kept encountering her trilogy of memoirs in online booksellers and bookstores alike. These encounters piqued my curiosity. A quick research about her made me want to read her memoirs; she was an A-lister in Danish literature, a part of the literary world that I admit I barely explored. Excited by this unfamiliar name, I added Ditlevsen to my March reading journey. The Copenhagen Trilogy is comprised of three memoirs separately published: Barndom (Childhood, 1967), Ungdom (Youth, 1967), and Gift (which can mean either poison or married, 1971). The first two books were translated to English in 1985 by Tiina Nunnally, with Michael Favala Goldman’s 2019 translation of Gift as Dependency completing the trilogy. In the same year, the three books were collectively published as The Copenhagen Trilogy. Ditlevsen took me on a journey that was very insightful. She gave glimpses of herself with candidness while, at the same time, shrouding herself in mystery. It was a heartbreaking story, knowing how Ditlevsen’s life came to an end but her untimely demise will not dim her legacy; her canon was made part of the Danish primary school curriculum.
Paradise by Toni Morrison
I have a couple of Nobel Laureate in Literature Toni Morrison’s works on my bookshelf. Unfortunately, they have been gathering dust as I kept on postponing reading them. It has been half a decade has passed since I read one of her works, hence, the inclusion of Paradise on both my 2022 Top 22 Reading List and 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge. Her first novel after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, Paradise is my second novel by Toni Morrison. I did struggle to make sense of the story at the start. After laboring through the earlier parts, the story started making sense. The novel charts the story of the town of Ruby, a town founded by black families with histories of enslavement. Despite the emancipation, they found themselves rejected both by the white and the lighter-skinned black people. Ruby was created to be isolated from the rest, to be some sort of Utopia. But it was never meant to be as the things they escaped from started to manifest; they were present all along, slowly revealing themselves as the story moved along. It was no easy read but Paradise gave me more glimpses into Morrison’s prose.
The Dragon’s Village: An Autobiographical Novel of Revolutionary China by Yuan-Tsung Chen
Apart from reading works by female writers, I also intended to read works from various parts of the world. As such, my reading journey landed me in China, with Yuan-Tsung Chen’s The Dragon’s Village: An Autobiographical Novel of Revolutionary China, a book I recently acquired because of my limited venture into Chinese Literature. The story commenced in late 1940s Shanghai, China where we meet seventeen-year-old Ling-ling. Orphaned at a young, Ling-ling was raised by her bourgeoise aunt and uncle. But with the victory of the Revolutionary Government, drastic and radical changes have been taking place all over China. The Land Reform, for instance, has been sweeping the countryside, resulting in the dismantling of the feudal system. To help deliver the “good” news to the countryside, Ling-ling joined a revolutionary theater group that has been scouring the countryside to carry out the reforms. Ling-ling got assigned to the village of Longxiang, the titular Dragon’s Village, in the province of Gansu. There, she had eye-opening experiences. The book was a great eye-witness account but I still felt shortchanged as Ling-ling, especially her motivations, was kept from a distance.
Segu by Maryse Condé
One of the writers I have been looking forward to for quite some time was Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé. In 2021, I finally got the opportunity to explore her prose with Crossing the Mangrove. While it was considered to be one of her “lesser” works, I was still in awe because it provided me glimpses into Condé’s brand of storytelling. In the same month that I read Crossing the Mangrove, I was able to acquire a copy of her third novel, Segu. It is one of her, if not her most popular works. Set in the late 18th century western Africa, Segu charted the story of the Traore clan. The patriarch, Dousika, was a confidant and top advisor of the Bambara King. However, he has seen his best days as his influence slowly dwindled, ultimately resulting in the decline of the family. His sons, on the other hand, found themselves scattered across the continent. With the Traore sons as main characters, Condé vividly captured the changes taking place in western Africa, with the arrival of slavery, Christianity, and Islam, influences that will inevitably result in the collapse of the Bambara Kingdom. Because of its lush historical contexts, I was in awe of the story, in the same way that The Books of Jacob swept me away.
All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir
Earlier this year, I was searching for books to include in my 2022 Books I Look Forward To List. One of the titles that I kept on encountering was Sabaa Tahir’s All My Rage. Without more ado, I included the book in my most anticipated 2022 releases, sans any idea of who Tahir was. It also escaped me that the book was a work of young adult fiction. Nevertheless, I was happy when I was able to obtain a copy of the book. While writing my review of the book, I learned that Tahir has established a reputation as one of this generation’s best fantasy novelists and that All My Rage was her first foray into non-fantasy fiction. The transition was swift, as her storytelling was inviting. In her first standalone book, she was able to explore a plethora of timely and seminal subjects such as migrant experience, the American Dream, sexual and physical abuse, and trauma and healing. While various forms of rage reverberate throughout the story – rage at the system, rage at the prejudices, rage at the unfairness of life – the story of Noor and Sal ultimately beaconed with hope.
Violeta by Isabel Allende
My next book took me back to South America, to Chile. Isabel Allende has won me over with her debut novel, The House of the Free Spirits; it was an extraordinary reading experience. While her second novel that I read, A Long Petal of the Sea, failed to impress me as much, I was nonetheless looking forward to her latest novel, Violeta, which I was lucky enough to acquire without much fuss. The titular Violeta was born in 1920s Santiago, Chile to a family of five sons. The patriarch’s business acumen ensured a bright future for the family. Tragedy struck when, after surviving the Spanish flu unscathed, they were not safe from the reverberations of the Great Depression. At first, I was not really that invested in the story. The historical contexts were similar to those that Allende has laid out in her two other books I have already read. But the more I dig into the story, the more interesting it got, especially when the novel grappled with the rise of the feminist movement in Chile and the staple of her works, the dictatorship in Chile. My interest was also piqued by the mention of Operation Condor, which I read of for the first time. Rich in historical details, Violeta is signature Allende prose.
The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman
This year’s reading journey has been brimming with books with the word “Book” in the title, with Violaine Huisman’s The Book of Mother already the fourth. Title aside, I would have not encountered the book had it not been longlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize, for which The Books of Jacob and Mieko Kawakami’s Heaven were also nominated. Luckily, I was able to obtain a copy of The Book of Mother, a critically acclaimed book in Huisman’s native France. Huisman’s debut novel, the book is the story of Huisman’s mother, Catherine. To her two daughters, Catherine was an enigma. She had a mercurial spirit but there were obviously several things that kept haunting her. I loved the language but I found the book quite a heavy and emotional read. There was a degree of melancholy that hovered above the story, making it easy for the reader to conclude how Catherine’s story is going to shape up. Nevertheless, Huisman got me invested because of its raw honesty and the beauty that flourished amidst the storm. At one time, Huisman’s voice started merging with Catherine’s.
Funerals are Fatal by Agatha Christie
Next to Danielle Steele, Agatha Christie is my second most-read writer. However, it has been four years since I read my last work by the Queen of Suspense. This is despite the fact that I have several of her works waiting for my attention. Because of this, I included Funerals are Fatal in my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge, just the second novel from the list that I have read so far. My 29th book by Christie, the novel started off with a funeral, that of Richard Abernathie. His family members, who were also eager to find out how his estate is going to be divided among them, have gathered for his funeral. The proceedings, however, were eventful especially after Richard’s eccentric sister Cora Lansquenet claimed that he was murdered, rather than passing away due to natural circumstances. Cora’s claim was dismissed by everyone, including Mr. Enwhistle, Richard’s lawyer and executor. However, a day after the funeral, Cora was found murdered, pushing Mr. Enwhistle to enlist the help of the enigmatic but brilliant detective, Hercule Poirot. The novel, a quick read, was classic Christie.
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez
Closing the reading month is another book from my 2022 Books I Look Forward to List, the second book from the list, and the third new book I have read this year so far. It was in late December 2021 that I first encountered Xochitl Gonzalez’s Olga Dies Dreaming and I automatically added it to my reading list although I was reluctant at first. Thankfully, I was able to obtain a copy of the book early this week and without more ado, I immersed myself in Gonzalez’s debut novel. The eponymous Olga Acevedo is forty years old and is a successful wedding planner for the powerbrokers of Manhattan. Her brother, Prieto, is an up-and-coming politician, the representative of their district in Brooklyn. On the backdrop, we read about the politics that have been hounding the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. The Acevedo’s mother, after all, was a prominent activist in the movement to liberate Puerto Rico. I liked the writing and the language but the story moved a little too slowly. The book’s conclusion was also unsatisfactory. Still, it was a promising debut.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2022 Top 22 Reading List: 6/22
- 2022 Beat The Backlist: 2/15; 26/50
- 2022 Books I Look Forward To List: 2/10
- Goodreads 2022 Reading Challenge: 28/70
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 0/20
- New Books Challenge: 3/15
I have added a new reading challenge, the New Books Challenge. This is a personal challenge, the first time I am doing so. The goal for 2022 is to read at least 15 new books, books that were published the same year.
Book Reviews Published in February
- Book Review # 317: My Year Abroad
- Book Review # 318: Heaven
- Book Review # 319: Umrao Jan Ada
- Book Review # 320: The Books of Jacob
- Book Review # 321: Soledad’s Sister
- Book Review # 322: The Copenhagen Trilogy
- Book Review # 323: Insurrecto
- Book Review # 324: Memories of My Melancholy Whores
- Book Review # 325: The Savage Detectives
- Book Review # 326: All My Rage
- Book Review # 327: The Feast of the Goat
- Book Review # 328: How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
- Book Review # 329: Crossing the Mangrove
In back-to-back months, I was able to complete at least ten book reviews. In February, I completed 11 book reviews while in March, I completed 13 book reviews, which fell short of my initial target of 15 book reviews. It was still good though as these 13 book reviews reset the highest tally I have in a month, which I set in February. Not only am I gaining momentum reading-wise, but I have also been gaining momentum writing-wise. This bodes me well considering the amount of backlog I have right now. I have now completed all my April 2021 pending book reviews while, at the same time, making a dent on my May 2021 pending book reviews. Upon checking, I only have one pending review for May 2021, which is great since I have several pending book reviews for June 2021. Having said this, I just hope I sustain the momentum I gained in the past two months. Hopefully, I get to complete fifteen book reviews this April. I am crossing my fingers.
As of now, I still have no idea of how my April reading journey is going to shape up. As such, I have continued reading books written by female writers. I am currently reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, my first by Highsmith. Like Paradise, the book is part of my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge and 2022 Top 22 Reading List. In reading the book, I am basically hitting three birds with one stone as the book is also listed as one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. As for the rest of the month, I will just let things take their natural course.
And that was how my March reading journey concluded. How about you fellow reader? How was your own journey? I hope you enjoyed the books you have read. For now, have a great day and weekend. As always, do keep safe, and happy reading everyone!