Just like that, we’re in the last month of the year. In a couple of days, the Christian world will be celebrating Christmas while our Jewish brothers will be celebrating Hanukkah. After both religious festivities, we will be preparing to welcome a new year. The past year has been eventful, to say the least. We experienced skyrocketing prices and wars. Tragedies abounded. There is no upheaval as the pandemic is still looming. With all of the events taking place all over the world, the future looks uncertain. Despite these uncertainties, we can only look forward with hope. Hope, after all, springs eternal.
I recognize that a lot of things can happen in three short weeks but I hope that you have achieved everything that you have set to accomplish this year. I pray that you get repaid a hundredfold for the hard work you poured in. It was tough but do know that you are doing well and that you are amazing. I also hope that your prayers get answered. But above all, I hope that you stay healthy, in body, mind, and spirit. Things are certainly gathering steam. With how swiftly we are coping, one would assume that we are done with our pandemic phase. The streets are once again teeming with activities. It does seem that we have managed to overcome the health crisis that reset our lives in the past two years. However, we should not be complacent; the war is far from over. I hope everyone is still practicing the minimum health protocols. Let us all stay safe and healthy until the year ends.
Looking back, November was technically an extension of my September and October reading journey. For the third month running, I focused on reading books in my active reading challenges. The only difference was that November was dedicated to non-American literature books. The shift in focus certainly helped in completing these said challenges. I can honestly say that it was a success. I am currently reading Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy, the last book on my 2022 Top 22 Reading List and my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge. Here is a peek into how my November journey shaped up. Happy reading!
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry
Kicking off the reading month was a book I listed on my 2022 Top 22 Reading List, Kevin Barry’s Night Boat to Tangier. I first encountered Barry and his novel shortly after it was longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize in Fiction. Unfortunately, the book failed to make the shortlist but it would later be cited by New York Times as one of the 10 Notable Books of the Year. It took some time before I would be able to acquire a copy of the book but once I did, I immediately included it in my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. The story was set over a stretch of twenty-four hours on October 23, 2018, and was set in the terminal building at the Andalusian port city of Algeciras in southern Spain and introduced two main characters who, in another life, were active gangsters. The passage of time, however, has not been kind to them. Charlie Redmond and Maurice Hearne were both from the city of Cork in Ireland and were waiting for Maurice’s missing daughter, Dilly (or Dill?), to pass through on a boat from Tangier, Morocco. This was familiar territory for the two men as they were previously part of a cartel that smuggled Moroccan hashish to Ireland through the ports of Spain. As they wait for Dill’s arrival, Barry painted the two men’s backstories. It was an interesting work that delves into the things that make us tick. Barry’s language was scintillating. Irish writers do have that inimitable talent for words.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
It was in late 2018 that I acquired a copy of Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It was the book’s rather lengthy title that held my attention although I did find it rather puerile. You see, I have never heard of Joyce before nor have I read any of her works. It was the sheer pull of a new reading adventure that reeled me into the story. Unfortunately, like most of my books, it was left to gather dust on my bookshelf. To redress this, I made the book part of my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge. Despite it being Joyce’s debut novel, it was longlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize and earned Joyce the “New Writer of the Year” award by the National Book Awards. At the heart of the novel was the titular Harold Fry who was sixty-five years old already when the readers first meet him. While cutting the lawn outside his home at Kingsbridge on the south coast of Devon, Harold received a letter from Queenie Hennessy, his former colleague. Queenie was dying from cancer while staying at a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Harold then set out on a journey by foot, hence, the title. As can be gleaned from stories of the same format, the novel flashed back to Harold’s past during the journey. I thought it was predictable enough. I also found it bland. The plot twist toward the end of the book was unexpected; it caught me off guard. That was when the emotions hit me and everything started to tie up. I was about to give up. I am glad I did not.
Wandering Star by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio
From England, my next stop was France with Nobel Laureate in Literature Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio’s Wandering Star. It was my 92nd read for the year, tying my tally last year. This is also my first novel by the French writer. I was looking forward to his prose and I listed it as part of my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. Originally published in French in 1992 as Étoile errante, the novel charted the story of two young girls. The first one was Esther, a Jewish French who was barely able to escape the onslaught of the German Nazis during the Second World War. By now, this has become a very familiar environment although I am always willing to make concessions because I have learned that every story and every voice must be told and be heard. Unfortunately, Esther’s father was not able to survive the war but she and her mother were able to. Following the conclusion of the war, she and her mother traveled to Jerusalem, encountering some challenges along the way. It was at this juncture that her story was cut short as the perspective shifted to the story of the second primary character, Nejma, a Palestinian. We read about her experiences in a Jewish refugee camp. Her story was captured along with the infancy of the newly established Israeli state. The novel had bright spots but I found it, overall, underwhelming. The two strands never quite come full circle.
A Bend in the River by Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul
From one Nobel Laureate in Literature to another. Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, or more popularly known by his abbreviated penname V.S. Naipaul, has long been part of my list of writers whose works I wanted to read. I kept encountering him and his works on must-read lists. Some of his works were even listed among the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Unfortunately, it has been a struggle to obtain the works of the late writer. My fortune changed last year when I was able to obtain a copy of A Bend in the River. No longer able to hold my anticipation for his prose, I added the book to my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. The novel transported me to mid-20th century Africa and was related primarily through the point of view of Salim, a merchant of Arab heritage who grew up in a community of ethnically Indian Muslims in an unnamed country on the east African coast. With the political shifts occurring everywhere on the African coast, Salim deemed it prudent to move to the African interior. Through a family friend, Nazruddin, Salim was provided the perfect opportunity. Nazruddin offered Salim his trading goods shop located in a former colonial town located at the titular bend in a major river. I liked the novel because it examined the heritage of colonialism in Africa and how it has altered the history of the continent. Strife, unfortunately, ensued following the withdrawal of the colonizers. This was vividly captured in the novel.
Moon Palace by Paul Auster
Unlike my Beat the Backlist Challenge and my 2022 Top 22 Reading List, I have already given up on my 2022 Top 10 Books I Look Forward to List. Despite my looming (again) failure, I was able to read eight out of the ten books on the list, the most recent of which was Sheila Heti’s Pure Colour. Prior to 2022, I have never heard of nor have I read the works of the Canadian writer. However, her latest novel, Pure Colour piqued my interest while searching for books to add to my most anticipated 2022 books. I thought that I would not be able to obtain a copy of the book before the year ended. Thankfully, I was able to obtain a copy of the book later in the year. At the heart of Pure Colour was Mira who we first meet when she was still in college. There was neither a time frame nor a location specified. It was in college that Mira met Annie who would become her special friend. The novel really had no robust plot to speak of. It was also not a character-centric story and it lacked dialogue. So what was it then? What came across was an abstract story related through episodes seminal in the primary character’s life. It had a philosophical quality to it, with religion and God as the centerpiece of these philosophical musings. These musings covered a plethora of subjects ranging from grief to death to art. Yes, it had some implied sapphic elements. I liked the writing but I am a little conflicted about the bigger picture.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
From one new book to another. 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. Unfortunately, the book left me unimpressed, making me avoid her other books. Thankfully, fellow readers encouraged me to try her other works as they were different from The Glass Hotel. So give it a chance I did. 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 sudden jumps in period without much of a preamble. Transitions were 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.
Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah
When Abdulrazak Gurnah was awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature, I was surprised as the Tanzanian writer’s win was unexpected. Nevertheless, the literary world embraced him and his works. I was among those who were waiting to dip their toes into his works. I actually obtained two of his novels earlier this year with the intention of reading them this year. I never got the change, rather, I had lots of excuses. Instead, I read my most recent purchase, Afterlives believing the book was released this year; it was first released in 2020. My first book by the Nobel Laureate in Literature transported me back in time. The time was the early 1900s, a time when 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. Caught in the crossfire were the locals who were trained to take part in the attrition between the two factions. 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 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.
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
One of the first books by Naguib Mahfouz that I acquired was Palace of Desire which I had to skip after I learned it was the first book in Mahfouz’s acclaimed Cairo Trilogy. I resolved to acquire all books in the trilogy first. Thankfully, I was able to do so back in 2020. It was then imperative for me to start reading the trilogy, hence, the inclusion of the first book in the trilogy – Palace Walk – in my 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge; it was the fourth novel by a Nobel Laureate in Literature I read during the month. My third book by Mahfouz, Palace Walk charted the story of an Egyptian family during the years immediately prior to the Egyptian Revolution and the First World War. At the helm of the family was the patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad. He owns a grocery store that sustains his family comprised of his wife, Amina, and their five children. The eldest was Yasin, al-Sayyid Ahmad’s only child in his first marriage. Fahmy was Amina’s elder son while Khadija was the elder daughter. Aisha and Kamal were the younger children. They lived in Cairo’s Gamaliya district, where the Beshtak Palace was also situated. Although the patriarch loomed large in the story, the contrasting personalities of each child gave texture to the story. In a way, the novel had two distinct parts. The first one was the exploration of family and cultural dynamics while the second part was preoccupied with politics and Egypt’s fight for independence. The second part and one of the characters reminded me of Miramar, the first Mahfouz novel I read. Compared to the first two Mahfouz novels I read, Palace Walk is more substantial in content, hence, it gave me better insight into Mahfouz’s body of art.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2022 Top 22 Reading List: 21/22
- 2022 Beat The Backlist: 14/15; 86/50
- 2022 Books I Look Forward To List: 8/10
- Goodreads 2022 Reading Challenge: 97/90*
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 14/20
- New Books Challenge: 11/15
*I updated my reading target for the year because I am way too ahead.
Book Reviews Published in October
- Book Review # 396: Funerals Are Fatal
- Book Review # 397: The Silence of the Girls
- Book Review # 398: Where the Crawdads Sing
- Book Review # 399: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
- Book Review # 400: The Overstory
- Book Review # 401: My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises
For the fourth month running, I failed to reach my target of publishing at least ten book reviews. I was, however, able to squeeze in time to complete six book reviews, which ties in with January and October as the months with the least number of reviews published. All things considered, it was still a good number. During the month, I was able to publish my 100th book review for the year, the first time I was able to achieve this feat. I am also currently reading my 100th book for the year, another first. Still, I am trying to squeeze in time to complete as many book reviews as I can before the year turns on a new leaf. My mantra this year has been “one step at a time”. I certainly don’t want to start 2023 with another mountain load of backlogs like this year.
With my significant reading challenges nearly done, the last few days of the year will be dedicated to reading as many new books as I can. I have Douglas Stuart’s second novel, Young Mungo in line. I am also looking forward to Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel, Demon Copperfield. I just might also read my first novel by Candice Carty-Williams; I nearly started reading People Person thinking Carty-Williams was American. My bad. Unfortunately, it seems that I won’t be able to complete reading 20 books from the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Oh well. There are just too many good books out there I guess.
And that was how my November 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!