Whew! Time does fly fast. We are now in the fifth month of the year; I am still wondering where the first four months went. I guess it had to do with me being unemployed for three of those four months. Nevertheless, I hope that these four months have been great and kind to you and to your family. I pray that the rest of the year will be a prosperous one. With one-third of 2022 done, I am still fervently praying that COVID19 will fully be eradicated. Several mutations of the virus have emerged but hope is still beaconing. Despite these uncertainties, I hope you are all healthy, in mind, body, and spirit.
Reading-wise, I was having trouble coming up with a fitting theme for my April reading journey. With this, I decided to carry on with my March reading journey, focusing on works of female writers. Despite the initial lack of direction, my April reading journey turned out to be as equally interesting and successful as my March reading month. The book I read 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 nine books. Here is a peek into how my April reading journey went.
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Still looking for a direction, I went for the safest pick, which was choosing a book from my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. One of the titles that immediately piqued my interest was Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. Listed in the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, it was a book I have long been wanting to read, especially after obtaining a copy of the book back in early 2018. However, I never got around to doing it until this year. The titular Mr. Ripley is Tom Ripley, a young man who was having a hard time surviving in New York City. He was a conman who was involved in several scams. When an opportunity to escape came knocking on his door, he didn’t hesitate to accept it. Off he went to Italy to persuade Richard “Dickie” Greenleaf to return to the United States. Things got complicated while he was in Italy and what ensued was the story of a man on the run. It was no mystery fiction but more of a work of psychological thriller. Highsmith captured, with intimate details, the interiors of a man whose subtle cunning made him slip through the direst of straits. It was certainly an interesting read.
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
One of the things that have characterized my 2022 reading journey was my reading my sophomore books of writers whose works I have previously read before. One of them was Willa Cather, whose book, Death Comes for the Archbishop, was part of my 2019 reading journey. Three years later, I am reading my second book by the American writer; I have obtained a copy of these two books at the same time. O Pioneers!, like my first novel by Cather, was set in the American countryside. It also happens to be her second published novel. O Pioneers! charted the story of the Bergsons, a family of American-Swedish immigrants. The family patriarch, John, passed away, leaving the farm to the care of Alexandra, a strong independent young woman. By sheer will and tenacity, she was able to reverse the grim fate of the family land. It was a great story of survival with an equally interesting set of characters. It was, however, lamentable how the story’s timeline kept leaping forward, not providing enough time for the readers to inhabit the character’s minds.
The Hunter Angel by Herta Müller
From one work of historical fiction to another work of historical fiction. Herta Müller was the recipient of the 200 Nobel Laureate in Literature. During the same year, she published Atemschaukel, which was a critically-acclaimed work. In 2012, the book was finally translated into English, and published as The Hunger Angel. The book transports the readers to post-World War II Soviet Union. As a reprisal for the Second World War, the Stalinist regime persecuted ethnic Germans living in Romania. Leopold Auberg was seventeen years old when he was deported to a gulag, a forced labor concentration camp in Nowo-Gorlowka (Novogorlovka), Ukraine. For five years, he shoveled coal to survive as it was the only means of acquiring bread; a shovel load of coal was equivalent to one gram of bread. It was a distressing environment where hope was barely existent and survival was the name of the game. The book was inspired by the story of poet Oskar Pastior and other survivors, including Müller’s mother.
The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt
To make my reading journey more interesting, I have been alternating familiar and new-to-me writers. After reading my first novel by Müller, I immersed myself in my second novel by Booker Prize-winning writer A.S. Byatt. I recently obtained a copy of The Children’s Book and I wasn’t originally planning on reading it immediately. However, since it has been four years since I read Possession, I decided to make it my next reading destination. Byatt transported me to late-19th century and early 20th century England and introduced me to a Dickensian cast of characters. As the title suggests, the book was populated by several young children – the Wellwoods, the Cains, the Fludds, and the Sterns to name a few – at least at the start of the novel. Their growth would form the backbone of the story. They would grapple with a bevy of subjects such as sexuality, identity, poverty, social classes, death, the rise of feminism, and war. It was an ambitious work with a kaleidoscopic appeal. However, the book, at times, was tedious and lacked focus. It was interesting nevertheless.
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
It was while researching for books to include in my 2022 Books I Look Forward To List that I first came across Charmaine Wilkerson’s Black Cake. I was a little apprehensive about the book, at first, because of the title. However, I was finally convinced after I kept encountering the book in similar 2022 most anticipated releases lists. Thankfully, I was able to obtain a copy of the book despite some early delays; it is the third book from the said list that I have read. The heart of the novel are siblings Byron and Benny Bennett. Their mother, Eleanor, recently passed away but not without leaving them an important message. Through her lawyer, Eleanor left her children a recording and the titular black cake. The recording contained secrets the siblings never knew about, making them question who they are and who their mother really is. Black Cake, which dealt with loss, memory, and history of food, was a sumptuous treat of a debut novel from an excitable new voice.
To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara
When I started reading Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life back in 2017 – it was part of my 2017 Top 20 Reading List – I wasn’t prepared for the emotional roller coaster the book had in store. It was a draining book but one that made me reflect on several sensitive and heavy subjects. When news broke out that she would release new work in 2022, I was literally up on my toes. The moment I encountered a copy of To Paradise, I did not hesitate to obtain a copy of the book. The book has three distinct storylines set in three different timelines separated by a century between them. Homosexual relationships were again at the center of her latest work, which was a source of concern for many a reader considering that Yanagihara is a cisgender female. I didn’t mind as long as the story is well-researched. It was another aspect of the book that grabbed my attention. The connection between the three storylines was tenuous. Except for repeated use of names, Washington Park Square house, and the grappling with themes of identity, there was very little to connect the three storylines. The book was like two novellas and a novel was hastily woven together. I did, however, like the third section as it dealt with a timely subject about totalitarian states, plagues, and censorship. For those who are looking for an emotional connection akin to A Little Life, this is not the book for you. Overall, To Paradise was an underwhelming experience.
Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka
Like Black Cake, it was while researching for books to include in my 2022 Books I Look Forward To List that I came across Danya Kukafka’s Notes on an Execution. Unlike the former, the latter immediately grabbed my attention because I felt like it was a work of mystery or suspense fiction. It was my fourth book on the list and my sixth new book. I wasn’t far off from my initial impression of the book. There were moments of suspense but the perpetrator is already known by the reader. In her second novel, Kukafka constructed the psychological profile of a murderer through Ansel Packer. The timeline weaves in and out of the present and the past, with the past dealing with his crimes and the present detailing the last few hours before his execution. The perspectives of a couple of female characters helped provide a deeper understanding of the character. What floats to the surface were the reflections on death and the necessity of the death penalty. It was an interesting read although it did drag a bit and the shifting timelines resulted in a less focused story.
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Earlier this year, I learned that the movie adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile will be released this year. This made me curious about the book which I thought I have previously read. I, later on, learned I have not read the book yet so I scrambled to obtain a copy of the book. Death on the Nile is my 30th book by the prolific Queen of Suspense and her second book I read this year, making her the first writer who I read at least two books of this year. The story was set on a steamer navigating the Nile and focused on the newlyweds Simon and Linnet Doyle. Also with them on the ship was renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot who was on a holiday. There was, however, no rest for the witty detective as murders started taking place. I thought I got it figured out when the motives were subtly underlined by Christie but of course, I was wrong. At one point, the possibility of it being similar to Murder on the Orient Express was high. Again, I was wrong. When the mystery was finally solved by Poirot, I was aghast. It was both expected and unexpected. Oh well. With Christie, you never really know until the conclusion.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Concluding my April reading journey was my first novel by Pat Barker. I originally planned to read her Booker Prize-winning book, The Ghost Road but after learning it was the last part of a trilogy, I decided to read her latest novel, The Women of Troy. Apparently, it was the second book of a duology. In the end, I obtained a copy of and settled with the first book of the said duology, The Silence of the Girls. The novel was a retelling of the Trojan War but through the perspective of one of the captured Trojans, Briseis. Briseis was the Queen of Lyrnessus, a city pillaged by Achilles. Briseis was Achilles’ “prize”. The book had several bright spots, with the vivid depiction of the evils of war and its impacts on the warriors, women, and children as its best facet. It also dealt with the objectification of women, a reality still that resonates in the contemporary. However, I found Briseis’ voice a little too passive, which I believe was deliberate on Barker’s part. The introduction of Achilles’ point-of-view also steered the discourse away from Briseis. It was still an interesting read and I still can’t wait to read its sequel.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2022 Top 22 Reading List: 8/22
- 2022 Beat The Backlist: 4/15; 31/50
- 2022 Books I Look Forward To List: 4/10
- Goodreads 2022 Reading Challenge: 37/70
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 2/20
- New Books Challenge: 6/15
Book Reviews Published in February
- Book Review # 330: Segu
- Book Review # 331: Violeta
- Book Review # 332: I The Supreme
- Book Review # 333: Olga Dies Dreaming
- Book Review # 334: How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House
- Book Review # 335: A House in the Country
- Book Review # 336: Showdown
- Book Review # 337: Multiple Choice
- Book Review # 338: Black Cake
- Book Review # 339: Cathedral of the August Heat
- Book Review # 340: The Old Man Who Reads Love Stories
- Book Review # 341: The Reading List
- Book Review # 342: The Four Winds
In back-to-back-to-bank months, I was able to complete at least ten book reviews, which is kind of a feat. In February, I completed 11 book reviews. I went two book reviews further in March when I completed 13 book reviews. In April, I had the same output of 13 book reviews. Sure, it was still short of my initial target of 15 books but I still have to give myself a pat on the book. I have been making a dent in my book review backlogs and I have now published more book reviews this year compared to the number of books I have read (42 vs 37). I have also completed my book review of the books that formed part of my first-ever Latin American literature month(s). My focus is now on completing book reviews of books that were part of my 2021 Japanese Literature months. I also am planning to complete all the book reviews of the books I read last January 2022. I hope that I sustain the momentum I have built in the past three months.
As for my May reading journey, I have decided to immerse myself in the works of European writers, including British writers. European literature has been a mainstay of my reading journeys and 2022 is no different. I am nearly done with my third novel by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman, My Grandmother Sends her Regards and Apologizes. After that, I will again be alternating the works of new-to-me and familiar writers. I have Nobel Laureates in Literature Jose Saramago, Patrick Modiano, Knut Hamsun, and Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio in mind but I just might host my first Nobel Prize in Literature a month later this year. Nonetheless, I still have a wealth of works to choose from such as the novels of Javier Marías, Italo Calvino, Natalia Ginzburg, and Milan Kundera. Considering my propensity for randomness, anything can happen in May.
And that was how my April 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!