I spent this morning reading bunches of end-of-the-year blog posts with all sorts of reading statistics from the last year. This is something of a year-end post, but in the sense of catching up on the books I’ve read recently that I haven’t yet written reviews for. I feel a bit guilty about it because it means giving a couple of countries less attention than they deserve. But it’s also good to stop feeling behind!
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Malaysia, Book-from-every-country #28)-
This beautiful tale of a survivor of Japanese prison camps and her process of healing was JoV‘s recommendation for Malaysia. It was a great choice, thanks JoV! As I started reading the book, I realized just how little I knew about Malaysia. For some reason it’s a country we hear very little about in the U.S. I’m definitely now interested in learning more about this country with a diverse population with Malaysian, Indian, and Chinese roots. I also want to read Tan Twan Eng’s first book, The Gift of Rain, at some point. My one quibble: the love story didn’t feel very convincing to me. I found the romantic relationship much more convincing as a mentorship and friendship and wish it could have just been left that way.
In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom by Qanta Ahmed (Saudi Arabia, Book-from-every-country #29)-
As the subtitle indicates, this is the memoir of a Muslim woman doctor who worked in a hospital in Saudi Arabia for two years. I was inspired to read this book partly by hearing a friend who lives in the United Arab Emirates talk about why she doesn’t travel to visit her husband who works in Saudi Arabia and instead makes him come visit her. If she traveled to Saudi Arabia, she would have to wear a veil and couldn’t travel anywhere by herself. The restrictions placed on women in Saudi Arabia are one of those things that intellectually I’m aware of, but hearing about them from someone’s personal experience suddenly made me appreciate the impact on a whole new level. From some of the statements on the back cover of this book, I half-expected Qanta Ahmed to be sympathetic to the restrictions, but in fact it was quite the opposite. She was scathing about the limitations placed on women and argues that they are an egregious misinterpretation of Islam. Another notable part of the book was Qanta’s presence in Saudi Arabia at the time of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. It was quite disturbing to hear how even the educated doctors she worked with (some of whom had studied in the U.S.) actually celebrated the attacks.
Unfortunately, the book could have been a lot better and about 50 pages shorter if the author had been able to resist the urge to list the designer brand names worn by each person she met.
Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli (Bhutan, again)-
A friend of mine suggested this book for Bhutan when she heard about it on the radio (appropriately enough). I was already reading The Circle of Karma as my book for Bhutan, but more recently I saw this book on the shelf at the library and picked it up for fun. Radio Shangri-La is by a radio reporter who traveled to Bhutan to volunteer as an advisor to a new youth radio station. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from the book, but I was pleasantly surprised. Lisa Napoli discusses Bhutan’s rapidly modernizing culture very thoughtfully. She also meets Kunzang Choden, the author of The Circle of Karma! Further demonstrating the small world of Bhutan, Napoli also mentions that the author of another book about Bhutan, Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan, was married to the lead actor in Travellers and Magicians, probably the most famous Bhutanese movie. Having seen both that movie and that book also, I feel pretty well read about Bhutan.
In other news, I’ve signed up for my first reading challenge. The 2013 Middle East Reading Challenge hosted by Maphead seemed like a good fit for my reading plans. Of course, I’ll be reading from lots of other parts of the world as well as I continue my book-from-every-country reading project.