Travelling the World with Books

A blog in which I describe a literary project to Travel the World with Books. I will include synopsis's of the books, historical context, conversations with my reading partner and my thoughts on the books. Feel free to comment any thoughts or recommendations for foreign books I can read.


2. 24th March 2018

What have I done so far?

To achieve my goal of 30 - 40 books (I can’t be more specific because at this point I have no idea how achievable it actually it) I am including books that both me and Lucie have already read. This includes The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini from Afghanistan; The House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah from Iran; Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie from India; Tom Appleby Convict Boy by Jackie French from Australia; and Mansfield Park by Jane Austen from England. These five books are to be included in the count and have already been added to my list. I will talk a little about each.

The Kite Runner

The most famous novel out of these five (perhaps after the Austen), The Kite Runner is one of my favourite books. If you are yet to read it (read it now!) it is the story of an Afghan boy who watched his city be destroyed and taken control off by the Taliban. He then becomes a refugee in America but has to leave behind his lifelong friend in the war torn country. He later returns to Afghanistan as a grow man to fulfill a promise. This is such a good book because Hosseini travels so deeply into the mind of Amir and his relationships with his father, best friend and country that you feel as if his grief is your own whilst everything around him falls apart. It is also a great book to read at the beginning of this project as it describes that period of history in detail which is good to understand as that war will no doubt appear or be referenced to in other books from countries in that region. If you have seen adaptations, whether plays or films or anything else, I still recommend reading the original as all the others are just the tip of an iceberg.

The House of the Mosque

This Irani story is set completely with in the city of Senejan and follows a family living together in an ancient house. We see the modernization of 20th century Iran symbolized by the addition of a TV to the house and how the traditional Islam of the Imam and muezzin (both members of the family) react to this. We also see the opening of a cinema greeted by demonstrations. Just like The Kite Runner we have the story of fictional characters being told amongst the context of real history. I liked this novel as it taught me a lot about Islam, for example the friday congregations, the different roles in the Mosque and also how religion impacts family life - the women largely staying at home cooking and cleaning whilst the men took the roles of money earners and religious teachers. This is also a theme in the book I am Malala, which I will talk about later.

Midnight’s Children

Another of my favourite books of all time, Midnight’s Children is a masterpiece of literature telling the story of Saleem Sinai’s grandfather, father and then him. The first part shows India before independence. The second is the lead up to it and the third is after. Using this historical event as a base, Rushdie create a world around it of intertwined events, magical abilities, complex relationships and constant change. The way he crafts the story so that everything is linked to another - every minute event, which to the eye has no significance, is mirrored in a much large happening - is genius. This whole book is best described as a spider’s web and as a reader it is immensely pleasurable to unpick it all. This book also presented itself to me at the perfect time: around the time of the partition’s 70 year anniversary. This was good as many documentaries about the event and its effects were also running on the TV and therefore I was able to gather even more context for the story and gain an in depth understanding of that period of Indian history.

Tom Appleby Convict Boy

This is a story I read a very long time ago, whilst living in Australia. It tells the story of young Tom Appleby, who got caught stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family and was shipped to Australia as a convict. We see the atrocious conditions of the ship journey there (which many didn’t survive) and the life of an Australian convict trying to farm in the immense heat and fight against disease which their immune systems had never seen before. We also get a glimpse of how the native Australians were treated by the British all through the eyes of a young ignorant boy. This book was impactful for me because for the first time I felt almost wrong in being a white British boy living in Australia which my ancestors had simply claimed for their own.

Mansfield Park

Of course very different from the other four in this list, Mansfield Park is one of the most famous classics in British literature and maybe only second best to Pride and Prejudice in Austen’s six novels. This is the story of young Fanny Price who is moved from a poor family in Portsmouth to the house of some very rich relatives in the country. It shows us how the timid girl reacts to the culture shock of the class divide she crosses. Contrary to the modern definition of the word, this novel is thought of as a comedy by academics because of its continual subtly mocking of the upper classes, for example featuring a woman who only sits and knits all day and loves her dog more than her children. Later on it become a sort of romance with a rich young man living on the estate courting Fanny Price and her cousin, Edmund, being a good and steady friend to her throughout the book. It is very difficult to read as you need to pay a lot of attention to the subtleties of what and how everyone is speak and what their relationships with all of the characters are. In this book who hands who a jumper is a major turning point in the plot.

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