Sunday, January 5, 2014

My Favorite Reads from Around the World--A Review of 2013

What could be better than discussing great literature with witty, bright, good souled women? Discussing it over lunch! As I've probably raved before I love my book group.  This year we decided to do book lunches instead of book nights because everyone needs to lunch, right?  and evenings are kinda...well...sacred. We also decided to cover the globe and focus on literature that represented different countries or cultures. Hooyah! (my favorite genre) Whoever had the turn of hosting made lunch from the country of our book selection. Let's hear another hooyah! because ethnic is my favorite kind of food! Is all this excitement lost on anyone?
Here's a summary of our great year:

In January we kicked off our international theme with 10 Souls I Want to Meet in Heaven by Michael Wilcox.  This book covered some of the author and scholar's favorite historical heroes. It covered the gamut from Buddha to Mohammed, St. Patrick to Darwin and more--6 more to be exact. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about each of these great souls and how they magnified their lives to benefit humanity. I am looking forward to meeting them in heaven as well for...some great discussion over lunch, perhaps!

If there was a book that I think should be required reading for everyone it would be February's selection Wild Swans This book covered 3 generations of women in China--from the Imperial era to Communism to the horrific Cultural Revolution of Mao. The author didn't shy away from the daily details of life and all of it was real! When I finished I wanted there to be a book like this about every country. Utterly fascinating.

In March we went to India and then floated for days in the middle of the ocean-- Yann Martel's
Life of Pi.  I hosted this one and couldn't decide whether to serve flying fish or raw sea turtle?  I decided to go with Indian cuisine. Life of Pi is one of my top favorite reads. The first 100 pages are their own brilliant essay about religion and life. Then you take off on this unbelievable survival tale. It's everything I could want in a book.  

In April we learned about the Jewish culture with The Chosen by Chaim Potok. I am finding out that books that I read in high school are a lot more interesting as an adult.  I came away wanting to be a gentle wise parent like Mr. Malter. From Reb Saunders the strict Hasid Jewish leader, I learned about the amazing capacity of the human mind to memorize scripture, know it so well you to pick it apart and put it together again, and argue every side of it inside and out. I have new respect for those guys with the curly locks.

The next month we gathered for High Tea and partook of English vittles while discussing Silas Marner by George Eliot. What a heartwarming classic about love, humanity, and redemption. I think this lovely quote sums it up: ...but yet men are led away from threatening destruction; a hand is put into theirs which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child's.   I see another parenting theme for me here.

The quickest of all the reads for me was June's A Thousand Splendid Suns by Kahleid Hosseini. This novel was gripping, it was shocking, it made me angry and unsettled and it was beautiful. It's about the triumph of women under the male dominated Islamic Afghanistan. Did you know under the Taliban you could be beaten for keeping parakeets? Not sure if that is evil or just ridiculous but either way I am sooo glad to be a woman in America.

In July we ate empanadas from Latin America and discussed  In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez as well as a poetry selection from Chilean Nobel Prize winner, Pablo Neruda. The first one was based on the true story of the 4 Mirabal sisters who spoke out for freedom in the midst of Trujillo's brutal military dictatorship in the Dominican Republic.  It was terrifying to read how seemingly effortlessly evil men can come to power and take away the freedoms that make life...well, worth living.

When I tell you what we chose for August you won't even blame me one bit for not finishing it... War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. See? Now you'll totally understand when I admit I didn't even START it. I wasn't about to snuff out summer with a long cold Russian tale of war! Shame and disgrace,  I still went to lunch.  I chose instead to visit the steamy Congo and read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I did admit this to everyone, probably while snarfing down a deliciously seasoned Russian meat pie.

September's choice was also grueling but much shorter so I read it and was glad I did: The Long Walk Home was about a Polish prisoner of war who was tortured by Russians and sentenced to 25 years in a Siberian work camp. He and a few others escaped and survived seemingly insurmountable obstacles like the Himalayas and hunger. The author and survivor Slavomir Racowiz felt compelled to share his amazing story "as a warning to the living and as a moral judgement for the greater good."  I thought whoever hosted this one had it pretty easy as far as a menu goes. We could just not eat lunch at all!  Thirsty? go suck on a rock.   We had Mongolian beef with rice instead.

We couldn't neglect Australia through all of of this. So, in October we read Mutant Message from Down Under The author shares her first hand experience on a walk-about through the outback with a special tribe of aborigines called the "Ancient Ones."  Along her journey she loses all physical possessions and contact with the world. She eats all kinds of disgusting things and learns that there are no accidents only "mysteries not yet revealed."  A lot to learn from this book--namely if you find yourself lost in the outback you better pray to get rescued by an aborigine. For our lunch our hostess had very cleverly cut up and arranged vegetables into frogs, caterpillars, and beetles. Amazing.

November's read could have bumped itself up as my new favorite book: The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. This novel is set in Cambodia at the dump where gangs roam, where children are abandoned, and where the poorest of poor eke out a living. Even in this most hopeless of all spots of the globe the author creates an inspiring story that just made me want to sing.
"Words are not only powerful. They are more valuable than gold."

We didn't have book club in December but I couldn't get enough of my favorite genre. I sneaked in a few other international reads throughout the year:

Girls of Riyadh (Saudi Arabia)
Memoirs of a Geisha (Japan) Secret Daughter (India) Motherhood, adoption, and the good and ugly sides of India.
Inside out and Back Again--Beautiful prose about life in Vietnam from a little girl's perspective.
A short story, The Big Wave by Pearl s. Buck (Japan) short story about villagers courage to live in the shadow of a  volcano and with the threat of tsunamis
I am currently reading The Cellist of Sarajevo
Next in my pile is The Power of One about Apartheid South Africa.

This year we are sticking a little closer to home with the theme "25 Books That Shaped America." But, I will never be done traveling with books so send me your recommendations!!