Reading the world, one country at a time

JISHOU, HUNAN — Now here’s an idea I wish I had had: choose a book from each of the world’s nations (plus a few extra locations), read it, and write a short review. That’s what Ann Morgan of the UK just finished doing.

Since she is literate only in English, French and German, Morgan asked help from readers of her blog to find English translations. One contributor even wrote a book for her blog, to fulfill the mission.

I wish I had that kind of time, to just sit and read. Color me green with envy.

The Atlantic has an interview with Morgan, and here is a Public Radio International report.

I was curious to see which books she read from countries I’ve lived in, or have an interest in. So, here’s what I found.

From China, she read Banished!, by Han Dong, rather than a work by Nobel Prizewinner Yan Mo. Han’s novel is about the Tao family, who are forced to leave Nanjing during the Cultural Revolution. As for Yan, I’d recommend Red Sorghum, his first novel, which was also turned into a film. But I have to confess, I have only seen the movie version as yet.

[As an aside, a well known author from this area is Shen Congwen, who lived in Fenghuang. His short stories and novels do a great job in capturing the lives of the local people in the last century. Border Town is a good intro to Shen’s writing.]

From South Africa, Morgan chose African Delights by Sophiwo Mahala, which traces the lives of poor and rich South Africans living near each other in the post-apartheid era.

Her Brazilian selection was House of the Fortunate Buddhas, by João Ubaldo Ribeiro. Its female narrator, a lecturer, describes the sexual escapades of brasileiros of the 1940s and ’50s, while dishing out sharp-tongued criticisms of famous writers like Goethe and Freud.

Spain’s most famous writer is Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, who gave us Don Quijote. Morgan chose a more modern author, Juan Goytisolo’s Exiled from Almost Everywhere, whose main character (a child molester) has been killed by a bomb, and spends the afterlife in an empty cybercafe communicating with living people.

Finally, you Neil Gaiman fans will be pleased that Morgan read American Gods. (Though Gaiman is technically still a British citizen, he wrote the book in the USA.) The main character meets the mysterious Mr Wednesday, who represents a collective of old gods planning to wage war on the new gods of easy credit and easy communication.

This is as good a time as any to direct you to my Amazon store, where you can find books and other media about China, science and other subjects I feature on this blog. And, I also have convenient Amazon search box at top right. I get a small commission from each sale, so thanks in advance.

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