one.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)
 
“Japanese-owned cargo ship Tsimtsum, flying Panamanian flag, sank July 2nd, 1977, in Pacific, four days out of Manila. Am in lifeboat. Pi Patel my name. Have some food, some water, but Bengal tiger a serious problem. Please advise family in Winnipeg, Canada. Any help very much appreciated. Thank you.

Pi grew up in a zoo as his father was the director and he spent the days learning about animals. He was also very interested in faith and shocked his family and teachers by practising Islam, Hinduism and Christianity at the same time. His family decides to migrate to Canada when the situation in India became troubled and they sell off the animals to various zoos. Some of the animals are going to zoos in America and they are therefore on the same cargo ship which the Patel family set out for Canada with. But the cargo ship sinks and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a hyena, zebra, monkey and Richard Parker, the enormous tiger.

Seeing the film trailer every where at Christmas, I decided that it was time to reread the book. I remember that I really enjoyed the book the first time around, and although I remember the setting, there were lots I had forgotten.

It is certainly still a good tale, but I found the days on the sea rather repeating and boring. But then I guess that’s what it’s like on the sea. I still haven’t decided which of the two versions of the story in the end that I believe is the true one.

one.

the Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
It’s 1983 and Nick Guest is invited to stay with his Oxford friend, Toby, and his family in their fancy house in Kensington Gardens. The Feddens are wealthy and the father, Gerald, has just become a new Tory MP and has huge ambitions, including meeting the Iron Lady. The daughter, Catherine, suffers from manic depressions and Nick has a special duty of taking care of her when the rest of the family is not present.

Nick has always had a crush on Toby and he hopes that by living in the same house would lead to a chance. Meanwhile, he is responding to the lonely hearts column in gay magazines and he meets up with Leo, a black older man and they instantly hit it off.

Fast forward to 1986 and Leo is no longer in Nick’s life. Instead he is the secret lover to a boy of multimillionaire Lebanese immigrants with an addiction to cocaine and threesomes. Nick is having his time of his life partying with all the Lords, Sirs, MPs, Counts and whatnots while working on his thesis about Henry James and spending his lover’s money. And AIDS is killing many of the gays they know.

1987 and boom! All hell breaks loose in the circle of posh upper class people.

This book had me right from the beginning with Nick’s struggle to fit in with the Feddens and their circle. And it is not for a second boring, although little happens until the last 100 pages or so. The language is amazing and how it all unfolds in the end was nothing like I expected. Sure, I was waiting for some kind of disaster, but the plot just blew me away. I wish I had the proper time to sit down with this book instead of just reading a couple of pages before bed time because this book really deserves your undivided attention.

twenty-seven.

Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah (1994)
“The boy first. His name was Yusuf, and he left his home suddenly during his twelfth year. He remembered it was the season of the drought, when every day was the same as the last. Unexpected flowers bloomed and died. Strange insects scuttled from under rocks and writhed to their deaths in the burning light. The sun made distant trees tremble in the air and made the houses shudder and heave for breath. Clouds of dust puffed up at every tramping footfall and a hard-edged stillness lay over the daylight hours. Precise moments like that came back of the season.”

Yusuf grew up on the East African coast. The man who Yusuf has
called his uncle lets him travel with him on his next journey. What Yusuf doesn’t know is that the man is a rich merchant and Yusuf is taken to settle his father debts. Yusuf starts working in a small shop somewhere by the sea, and then he gets to travel with the merchant to the interior regions to trade with the savages.

The story is set right before World War I or World War II, I’m guessing because of the increasing activity of German settlers. I’m also guessing that the story is set in Tanzania or Kenya because of the vague geographical clues. It is rich with details about the complex mix of people and culture in Africa, the traders are descendants of Arabic and Indian settlers and they bring with them Islam to the noble savages. The savages have their superstitions and traditions, and the book is full of stories about jinns and other strange creatures. And then there is the strange myths about the Europeans.

This book is great and beautiful. Some parts of it reminded me of A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul, but that is probably because it somewhat has the same setting. I recommend both. And I’m looking forward to read By the Sea by Gurnah.

seventy-three.

Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller (2003)


A female teacher, Sheba, is having a sexual relationship with her fifteen year old student. After being arrested she is living together with a former colleague from the same school, Barbara. Barbara is secretly writing a true account of the affair, starting with the day Sheba arrived at the school.

What was she thinking? Barbara is doing a marvellous job putting together the story of the scandal. She didn’t treat Sheba well when she started teaching at the school, and she is certainly jealous of everyone around Sheba. When the scandal of the relationship surfaces, the media is making fun of Sheba, her husband refuses her to see her children but Barbara moves in with Sheba and takes care of her.

The film version was really intense, if I remember it correctly. I didn’t find the book as intense, but it was an interesting read.

thirty-three

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2003)


“Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère.”

Kambili never speaks unless she’s spoken to and never smile. Her father is a rich man and a devoted Catholic is admired by everyone. Yet he punishes his family when they aren’t number one in class and when they sin. The biggest sin is to eat at their grandfather’s house, the heathen. He beats his wife so severely that she miscarries. Kambili and Jaja’s rescue is their aunt, their father’s sister, and her small house full of love and laughter.

Another beautiful book by Adichie that I could not put down. It is sad yet very hopeful. It is set in Nigeria, mainly in the university town Nsukka, which also played a major role in Half of a Yellow Sun. The coups and corruption is also part of the background of this book. Needless to say that I loved it. I’m definitely going to teach this book to the right class someday.

eleven.

the English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (1992)


A Canadian nurse is alone with a nameless patient in a deserted Italian village at the end of WWII. The patient (English?) remembers every grain of the Saharan desert and what happened there but that is all he talks about. The girl is in love with the patient. A man, a former thief, who turns out to be a long lost friend of the girl turns up after hearing a strange rumour. And then an Indian sapper in the British Army shows up, disarming mines where he finds them. Then the girl falls for the Indian and they become lovers. Meanwhile, the former thief is trying to find out who the patient is, making him talk while being on morphine. Within the story there are stories about their past lives.

I think this is the first time I have been offended by the word fuck. It didn’t fit in with the beautiful sentences and descriptions. It was a book I read in between classes and waiting for my sister at Schipol. It was also a book that made me want to read other books to get more knowledge about the war and mapping the deserts. And I can’t wait to find out what the 5th graders make out of this book.

ten.

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood (1988)


Once upon a time, in a land far away, while reading Oryx and Crake, someone told me that I need to read Cat’s Eye. And now I finally did.

Friendships that turn into cruelties. It’s one of those stories that haunts you when you’re not reading it. I saw a lot of my own childhood in this book and it reminded me about all those things I have been trying to forget.
“This is what I miss, Cordelia: not something that’s gone, but something that will never happen. Two old women giggling over their tea”.


These are the books that have found my way recently.
(I find it hard to write about the things I really love.)