Happy Wednesday everyone! We’re in the final stretch of the year. I can’t believe that in a matter of weeks we will be welcoming a new year. While the future holds a lot of uncertainties, it also beacons with hope; hope, after all, springs eternal. But as the year slowly draws to a close, I hope that 2022 is being kind to everyone. I hope that you get repaid for all your hard work this year. I hope that all your prayers have been answered or that you have reached a level of peace. More importantly, I hope that you are all doing well, in body, mind, and spirit. Let’s rock the rest of the year!
It is time for another WWW Wednesday update as it is a Wednesday. WWW Wednesday is a bookish meme originally hosted by SAM@TAKING ON A WORLD OF WORDS. The mechanics for WWW Wednesday are quite simple, you just have to answer three questions:
- What are you currently reading?
- What have you finished reading?
- What will you read next?
What are you currently reading?
To avoid the usual holiday cramming, I have been focusing on books in my reading challenges these past few months. Thankfully, I have made huge strides. One of my active challenges is my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge where I pledged to finish at least 50 backlist books. I easily hurdled that as I am a backlist type of reader. However, I also listed 15 backlist books I resolve to read no matter what. Of these fifteen books, I already completed thirteen. The fourteenth book on the list is Nobel Laureate in Literature Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk. This is my third book by the Egyptian writer who I first encountered about seven years ago. I just obtained copies of his books despite having no iota about what they are about or who Mahfouz was. I just knew he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
I liked the first two Mahfouz novels I read but what I was really looking forward to was his widely-acclaimed Cairo Trilogy, the first book of which was Palace Walk. When I obtained Palace of Desire back in 2015, I didn’t realize it was part of a trilogy so I had to withhold reading it until I complete the Trilogy. Thankfully, I was able to complete the three books during the lockdown period. Due to my growing anticipation, I added the book to my Beat the Backlist challenge. Compared to Miramar and The Thief and the Dogs, Palace Walk is substantially longer. At the heart of the novel is the family of al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad. The interplay between family dynamics, religion, and societal norms plays a seminal role in the story but, at the same time, Mahfouz was building a portrait of Cairo. I can’t wait to complete the trilogy
What have you finished reading?
It was in 2020 that I first encountered Emily St. John Mandel. Her novel, The Glass Hotel made it to my 2020 Books I Look Forward To List. The book, however, left me dissatisfied. It also made me want to avoid her other books. Thankfully, a couple of fellow readers have encouraged me to try her other works as they are different from The Glass Hotel. So I did give her a chance and when I learned that she was releasing a new work this year, I saw the opportunity to give her prose another chance. By the way, fellow readers have pointed out that her first major work, Station Eleven, was a work of speculative fiction ala dystopian and it seemed that Sea of Tranquility will also be like it.
Sure enough, Sea of Tranquility is a world away from The Glass Hotel. Mandel’s latest novel leapfrogs across different time periods, starting from 1912 to as far into the future as 2401. I was utterly lost during the first half of the book because of these jumps in period without much of a context. Transitions were also virtually nonexistent. But I was then reminded of the other recent reads I had such as Sequoia Nagamatsu’s How High We Go in the Dark. Both books grappled with the pandemic and have also timelines that stretch beyond the future. Sea of Tranquility, however, involved time travel and underlined the consequences of our decisions. In this aspect, the novel reminded me of Emma Straub’s recent novel, This Time Tomorrow. It was, overall, an interesting read.
Three of my last four reads were written by awardees of the Nobel Prize in Literature; Mahfouz’s Palace Walk makes it four out of the last five. However, these three were writers whose works I am exploring for the first time: Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio (2008), Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (2001), and most recently, Abdulrazak Gurnah (2021). The Tanzanian writer’s win was unexpected but one that the literary world embraced nevertheless. I was among those seated, those waiting to dip their fingers into his works. I actually obtained two of his novels earlier this year. However, I have read neither. Instead, I read my most recent purchase, Afterlives believing the book was released this year. Well, apparently it wasn’t for it was first released in 2020.
It would have helped my goal of reading 15 new books. Oh well. My first book by the Nobel Laureate in Literature transported me back in time, in contrast to Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility. The time was the early 1900s. The African continent was besieged by colonizers, European colonizers that is. Over in East Africa, the British were trying to wrest control from the Germans. The locals were trained to take part in the attrition between the two. Among those who were part of the war were Ilyas and Hamza. Ilyas was kidnapped when he was younger and returned decades later to get his sister, Afiya. Ilyas would again leave her after he decided to suit up for the British during the First World War. Meanwhile, Hamza and Afiya would cross paths and this encounter would blossom into romance. Historical contexts make the story flourish – I learned a lot about the tumultuous times in East Africa – but it was the cultural touchstones that further elevated it. The mix of native words, however, can be a little challenging.
What will you read next?
After careful deliberation, I have decided to line up two works of African literature before capping it with a classic of Indian literature. The first of these books is NoViolet Bulawayo’s Glory; her debut novel, We Need New Names, was shortlisted for the 2013 Booker Prize. I was a little underwhelmed with her coming-of-age debut novel which made me not too keen on her latest novel. However, I changed my mind after the book was shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize. Moreover, I heard the book that had a satirical tone and is a full-on political commentary about her home nation of Zimbabwe. I can’t wait to read what it has in store.
Unlike my initial experience with Bulawayo, Nigerian writer Akwaeke Emezi’s debut novel, Fresh Water – which was also my first novel by them – immediately won me over. The Death of Vivek Oji, however, was just right in the middle. This, however, did not preclude me from wanting to read their latest novel, You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty. I thought I wouldn’t be able to obtain a copy of their latest novel but I was in luck.
To finally close up my two of my reading challenges, I am finally lining up Vikram Seth’s gargantuan book, A Suitable Boy. Like some of the books on this list, I had no iota of who Seth was nor have I read any of the Indian writer’s works previously. However, I kept encountering his novel A Suitable Boy on must-read lists. It was even listed as one of the 1,001 Books You Must Reading Before You Die. It was a no-brainer. I have to read the book. For the longest time – I acquired my copy of the book back in 2018 – I wanted to read the book. However, I am daunted by its length which is ironic because I am rarely challenged by a book’s length. Anyway, I have finally mustered the courage to read this novel. I can’t wait to see what it has in store.
That’s it for this week’s WWW Wednesday. I hope you are all doing great. Happy reading and always stay safe! Happy Wednesday again!