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Archive for the ‘Barbara Demick’ Category

A bit of a catch-up/catch-all post today just to tidy up some of the odds and ends that have accumulated over the last month, books that I enjoyed but haven’t really been able to gather the energy to review at length.  So, here we are: 

Eating India by Chitrita Banerji
I never get tired of reading about India.  Histories, memoirs, novels, cookbooks…anything that educates me about this fascinating country I will try.  Here, Banerji, a Bengali-born food writer who now lives in the States, takes the reader on a culinary journey of India, introducing the specialties of each region as well as the customs and cultural influences that have shaped the gastronomic traditions of the areas.  None of the previous books I’ve read on this topic have ever gone into as much detail as Banerji did on the Portuguese influence, which was by far the most fascinating bit of the book for me.  Overall, I found it quite interesting but neither personal nor descriptive enough to be all that memorable. 

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
I can’t lie; this was a rather depressing read.  Very informative, absolutely, but super depressing.  Demick focuses on fifteen years in the lives of six North Koreans, all of whom eventually defected to South Korea.  This period saw the collapse of the Soviet Union (and the disappearance of the aid Soviet countries had been sending North Korea), the transition in leadership from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-Il, China’s shift towards capitalism, and, most importantly, the famine that plagued the country throughout the 1990s, killing an estimated two million people.  I never really connected with any of the people profiled.  What kept me reading was my interest in learning so much about such a secretive country and how quickly it went from being a Communist success story to a nation without electricity or running water: as Demick describes it “…North Korea is not an undeveloped country; it is a country that has fallen out of the developed world.”  Well-worth reading. 

Free for All by Don Borchert
Who doesn’t love reading about librarians?  This was certainly a light, fun read after the dismal prospect of life in North Korea!  As a devoted library user I’m always interested to hear more from the librarians’ perspective.  What they do in a normal day, what they think of the various users, etc.  From Borchert’s tale, I’m rather impressed by how frequently they have to interact with the police (though, given the number of times I’ve seen my own librarians call the cops, I don’t suppose I should be hugely surprised).  All in all, a pleasant read, amusing but not laugh out loud funny, an excellent afternoon’s distraction – just the sort of thing to check out from the library rather than purchase.   

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
My first Connie Willis and such fun!  Despite a rather dizzying beginning that felt more Fforde-like that Jasper Fforde’s own works, this was a genuinely pleasurable read.  It did not quite live up to all the praise that had been heaped upon it but it was a fun day’s entertainment and escape.  While I love time travel novels they can get overly clever in their mysteries, as I think happened here.  Too many different issues all intersected far too quickly and the conclusion felt a bit rushed and muddled.  Comprehensible, yes, but not as enjoyable as the rest of the novel.  I did adore the many mentions of Golden Age mystery novels though, particularly the repeated allusions to my favourite Gaudy Night.

Eucalyptus by Murray Bail
My attempt to expand my knowledge of Australian literature began with this strange novel, the story of a father who promises his beautiful daughter Ellen to the first man to name all of the hundreds of species of eucalypts on his property.  It’s a strange, dream-like novel that ably displays the art of story telling though perhaps focuses too much on the art of telling at the expense of the story itself.  Everything in this modern-day fairy tale moves slowly, achingly so, only increasing the tension felt first by the reader and then, as she comes to understand the danger, Ellen herself.  It’s a very strange but absorbing novel with a rhythm and style completely its own.

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