Woah. We’re already midway through April! How time flies! It also means that the majority of auditors and accountants across the world are scrambling to complete their audits in time for the tax filing deadline. Luckily for me, we were able to file our tax returns yesterday without much trouble. I am glad that the local tax authority’s online infrastructure is holding up; historically, our system collapses due to the uptick of last-minute filers. Anyway, I hope my fellow accountants and our brothers and sisters in the profession are holding into the tiny slivers of sanity they have left. LOL. Thankfully, April 15 falls on a weekend, hence, our tax deadline was automatically extended to the nearest Monday (April 17). It can both be a blessing and a curse, however.

Anyway, back to the purpose of this update. This update is late because I spent the first ten days of the month traveling across Japan’s Kansai region. It was a marvelous experience, by the way, and I can’t wait to go back there. I especially loved Kyoto, a city I have long wanted to visit. I will share more of my adventures once I get my travel blogging groove back. Reading-wise, March developed into an extension of mhy February 2023 reading journey. Toward the end of February, I realized that I have quite a lot of works of British literature that I have to catch up on. British literature is my second-most read part of the literary part, lagging way behind American literature, but there still seems to be a lot of books waiting to be explored. Before I lose it in a swirl of words, here is a peek into how my March reading journey shaped up. It was a healthy mix of familiar and new-to-me writers. Happy reading!

Victory City by Salman Rushdie

I kicked off my March reading journey with a very familiar name. Well, Salman Rushdie is not exactly British although he did find shelter in the UK during his dark years. Unfortunately, despite the passage of time, the dark years still trickle into the present and on August 12, 2022, the world of literature was rocked by one act of violence toward one of its most revered albeit most controversial names. Rushdie was stabbed while delivering a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution. He managed to survive albeit at some cost. Defiant as always, Rushdie did not let this event mute him and a couple of months after the incident, he released his latest novel, Victory City. His fifteenth novel is a fictional account of the rise and fall of Vijayanagar, the titular Victory City, and the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. It flourished during the fourteenth century and its rise and fall were captured by Pampa Kampana, a sorceress and oracle who founded the city. She chronicled the city’s story in her (fictional) journal, Jayaparajaya. To be honest, I was surprised that the story was primarily set in India. His last two novels, The Golden House and Quichotte were mainly set in the United States. Neither impressed me but Victory City tickled my imagination. It wa, in a way, a sort of homecoming for Rushdie and his readers. The book also sends a very powerful message: “Words are the only victors.”

The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark

From a familiar writer to a new-to-me writer. It was through must-read lists that I first came across Muriel Sparks. Several of her works were part of the said lists, with some, such as The Prime of Miss Brodie forming part of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Finally, in 2023, I got the opportunity to explore her body of work through The Mandelbaum Gate. While reading the book, I learned that Spark was of Scottish descent, making her a rarity among the scores of British writers whose works I have previously explored. The Mandelbaum Gate is my springboard into Spark’s oeuvre. The titular Mandelbaum Gate is an actual gate that separates the Jordanian and Israeli sides of Jerusalem. Knowing this, one could surmise that the book has historical overtones. Sure enough, it did, with the Adolf Eichmann trial in 1961 as the backdrop. The story, however, involved Barbara Vaughan, a half-Jewish Catholic convert who planned to meet her fiance Harry Clegg, an archaeologist working in Qumran in West Bank. To do so, she must cross the Mandelbaum Gate. Her heritage, however, complicated her case. The book meandered a little bit but it had some elements of adventure which kept my attention. Interestingly, the book was cited by many as unique, at least in the ambit of Spark’s oeuvre. It makes me wonder what more she could offer.

Life, the Universe and Everything
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Mostly Harmless 
by Irvine Welsh

Finally, nearly five years since I read the first book in Douglas Adams’ popular science fiction series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I was finally able to complete reading all five books in the series. For the record, there is a sixth book titled And Another Thing… written by Eoin Colfer and published in 2009 with the express permission of Adams’ widow Jane Belson. However, from a personal point of view, I will only be considering the original five books in the series. I previously read the second book in the series, The Restaurant at the End of the Universein late February. I then decided to read through the rest of the series, making Adams the first writer in over six years for who I read at least four books in a year.

In the last three books of the series, we continue to follow the adventures and misadventures of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and Trillian (formerly known as Tricia McMillan). To the uninitiated, Ford and Zaphod are both aliens while Dent and Trillian are humans. Dent and Trillian were also the only survivors of the Earth which, at the start of the series, was destroyed by the Vogons, a race of unpleasant and bureaucratic aliens, to make way for an intergalactic bypass. The rest of the series introduced more interesting subjects such as the space-time continuum which allowed Ford and Arthur to travel to prehistoric Earth. The final book in the series, Mostly Harmless introduced the daughter of Trillian and Dent, catching me off-guard. It was a series full of fun moments although the humor belied the bevy of dark and complex subjects the series covered. It was, overall, a satisfying read, a step out of my comfort zone that was worth it.

The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell

Like Spark, it was through must-read lists that I first came across James Gordon Farrell. This then led me to his novel The Siege of Krishnapur which I, later on, learned won the Booker Prize and was even shortlisted for The Best of Booker (won by Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children). I intended to read the book earlier but I held back when I learned it was part of the Empire Trilogy. The trilogy, I learned, grappled with the legacy of British colonialism. Sure enough, British colonialism was the heart of The Siege of Krishnapur, the second book in the trilogy; the three books can be read independently. The book transported me to the mid-19th century Indian subcontinent. At the heart of the story was the Indian Mutiny which included sieges into the cities of Cawnapore (Kanpur) and Lucknow. The events covered by the book were true but the novel’s setting, Krishnapur, was fictional. Krishnapur was the home of many a British colonist and was run by a man mainly referred to as the Collector; his name was Mr. Hopkins. It was the Collector who first recognized the trouble brewing over the horizon. He tried to raise the alarm but his pleas to Calcutta went unheeded and sure enough, a massacre of British forces in the nearby city of Captainganj spurred revolts across the region. The remaining British forces retreated to Krishnapur, hence, the book’s title. It was, overall, a compelling read that sheds light on a seminal part of India’s recent history.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

In the ambit of literature, Virginia Woolf is a name that one will hardly miss, whether one is a devout reader or not. After all, Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf? I think it was through this movie title that I first came across the English writer although I wasn’t really into reading back then. The title, however, left a deep impression on me. I would, later on, learn that Woolf was a writer and I would explore her oeuvre years after my first encounter with her, starting with Mrs. Dalloway, a book I read way back in late 2018. The time is ripe to reconnect with one of the world’s most renowned writers and literary critics; she wasn’t a fan of James Joyce’s Ulysses. To be honest, I was surprised when I opened the book. The book’s introduction by Peter Ackroyd and Margaret Reynolds gave me information about Woolf that I didn’t know before. I learned, for instance, that Orlando was inspired by the family history of Vita Sackville-West, a fellow novelist and established poet who was also Woolf’s close friend and lover. She also published Woolf’s books through Hogarth Press. Anyway, Orlando started in the Elizabethan age where we meet the eponymous Orlando. Time and gender were relative in the story as it leapfrogged from one historical event to another, with Orlando reincarnated into either a female or a male. It was an interesting read and one that also challenges the boundaries of storytelling and what it can achieve.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

To make my reading journey more interesting, I have been alternating familiar names (writers whose works I have read before) and new-to-me writers. I wasn’t really planning to read Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. In the future, yes, but not right now. Had I not forgotten to bring Brighton Rock when I went to work, I wouldn’t have even started with the book although I was contemplating on which of the two books I should read after I read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. But I guess I had no choice because, at some point in the future, I will be reading the book anyway. The Sense of an Ending is the third Booker Prize-winning book I read this year; after Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida and J.G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur. At the heart of the 2011 Booker Prize-winning book was Tony Webster, who was already in middle age and was already divorced when we first meet him. An unexpected bequest from a person who he met only once in his life. This led to him flashing back into his past as he confronted events that have, in hindsight, impacted his life as an adult. The primary focus of his trip down memory lane was his childhood friends, who he didn’t give much thought to previously. The book, somehow, reminded me of Herman Hesse’s Demian for some reason. The book’s thin appearance belies the deep and thought-provoking messages it carries within. Somehow, I wanted the story to extend a little more.

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

Another prominent name in the ambit of British literature is Graham Greene. His name and his works are ubiquitous. Must-read lists are not complete without one of his novels. I also learned that Greene was a part of the perenial discussions for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Unfortunately, it took a long time before I finally got the opportunity to explore his prose, with Brighton Rock as my springboard into his prolific career. Moreover, Brighton Rock is listed as part of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, making it the eighth book from the said list that I read this year. I guess I am making up for lost ground. Brighton Rock was set in the years immediately prior to the Second World War in the seaside resort of Brighton. The primary catalyst that set into motion the novel’s main action was Charles “Fred” Hale’s report on the murder of Kite, a renowned gang boss. While the news piece was seemingly innocuous, it did attract the interest of evil minds, chief among them Pinkie. At the age of seventeen, the sociopathic teenager took over the gang that Kit once led. The overriding theme in the story, however, was religious values, immorality, and sinfulness; Greene is a writer renowned for exploring these subjects and Brighton Rock was the first in a series that explored them. It was an interesting book, to say the least, and gave me an insight into the kind of writer Greene is. I can’t wait to explore his prose more.

Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Another prominent name in contemporary British literature that one cannot miss is J.K. Rowling. She captivated the world over with her breathtaking worldbuilding through the magical series Harry Potter. Her story of finding a publisher for the series also endeared her to many. She was the paragon of tenacity. However, Rowling has recently been freefalling because of her radical views. I admit I was once a part of J.K. Rowling’s legion of supporters. But with her recent pronouncement vis-a-vis important and timely subjects, she has lost a fan in me. So why am I reading one of her works? I obtained a copy of The Casual Vacancy way back in 2015, when Rowling has not shed her real skin yet; or has not fully manifested yet. I just want to tick off the book from my long list of unread books. The Casual Vacancy is my 10th book from the British writer, making her the 13th writer for who I read at least ten books. The Casual Vacancy was Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter novel. Set in a suburban West Country town called Pagford, the story opened with the sudden demise of Barry Fairbrother, a parish councilor. His death opened up the titular casual vacancy. What ensued was a battle for the right to fill up that casual vacancy that exposed the real colors of the members of the community. This also exposed the social concerns that have been hounding the denizens of the town. While the quality of writing was there, the story, overall, was something generic so temper your expectations.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

Capping my March reading journey, and, by extension, closing my foray into British literature, was Pat Barker’s The Women of Troy. If my memory serves me right, it was actually through this book that I first encountered the British writer. The book immediately piqued my interest because of its direct reference to Greek mythology, a sure way to capture my attention. Besides, I read glowing reviews of the book. I would, later on, learn that Barker won the Booker Prize with her novel The Ghost Road. I wanted to read The Women of Troy earlier but had to withhold reading it after I learned it was the sequel to The Silence of the Girls. Now that I read The Silence of the Girls, I can now proceed with The Women of Troy. Picking up from where she left off, Barker again reintroduces Briseis, the once queen of the fallen kingdom of Lyrnessus. She was a captive of Achilles but following Achilles’ demise, she has been entrusted to Alcimus, one of the few men Achilles trusted. Troy has finally fallen, King Priam was dead, and the Greeks were basking in their victory. However, Briseis is still not clear of danger as Achilles’ son, Pyrrhus, was of a different breed. He may have his father’s fighting acumen but he lacked his father’s wisdom. One of the novel’s key action drivers revolved around the burial of King Priam’s body. Meanwhile, the women of Troy were plotting their path to freedom. Compared to its prequel, I liked this novel more because the writing was surer.

Reading Challenge Recaps
  1. My 2023 Top 23 Reading List4/23
  2. 2023 Beat The Backlist: 3/20; 27/60
  3. 2023 Books I Look Forward To List0/10
  4. Goodreads 2023 Reading Challenge: 28/70
  5. 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 8/20
  6. New Books Challenge: 1/15
Book Reviews Published in March
  1. Book Review # 414: Atomised
  2. Book Review # 415: Victory City
  3. Book Review # 416: Nights at the Circus
  4. Book Review # 417: Beware of Pity
  5. Book Review # 418: From the Fatherland, With Love
  6. Book Review # 419: The Samurai
  7. Book Review # 420: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
  8. Book Review # 421: A Quiet Life

For the second month running, I was able to double my output from the previous month. I published two book reviews in January and then doubled them in February. In March, I was able to post a total of eight book reviews. This is certainly an improvement as I have recently been scrambling to write reviews. I am just glad I was able to post eight book reviews. Currently, my goal is to complete all my pending book reviews from my Japanese literature months in 2022; I just published today one of these reviews but I still have quite a couple to finish. It is my fervent hope to finish as many as I can this month because April is a rather busy month because of all the quarterly reporting. I will just take it one step at a time, especially with how busy life has been getting lately.

From British literature, I have decided to pivot toward one of my favorite parts of the literary world: Japanese literature. A Japanese literature month has become imperative. I usually host it during my birth month but I m making an exception this year because of my recent trip to Japan. As I have repeatedly mentioned over the years, Japanese literature has developed into one of my comfort zones. It is a safe haven of some sort. As early as now, I have resolved to dedicate two months to one of my favorite parts of the literary world. For April, I resolved to read the works of new-to-me Japanese writers. So far, so good as I am already reading my fifth book for the month. May will be another interesting month as I am already lining up works of familiar Japanese writers such as Yukio Mishima, Banana Yoshimoto, Natsume Sōseki, and Jun’ichirō Tanizaki.

2022 was a big year and I hope that 2023 will be an even bigger year. How about you fellow reader? How is your own reading journey going? 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!