At the beginning of the year I wrote a post about Reading Challenges and this post is an update on my progress so far. I have formally signed up for one just the one challenge - the East European Reading Challenge. I didn’t specify the level, but as I have now read six books from Eastern Europe, I have already passed the tourist level, (four books) and need another two to reach the Amabassador status. Which I will try to do between now and the end of the year.
The books have been a bit of a mixture. I started with Boris Akunin and his Erast Fandorin series of crime novels. Both The Turkish Gambit and The Winter Queen are set in the 1870s and are not your typical crime novel. They tend to go at a rather leisurely pace and are full of strange and unusual characters. They also give us a good idea of the world view of (probably) most Russians, not just then, but as of to-day. Well worth trying out.
I followed up with two of the great classics of not just Russian, but world literature - Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Not much to add about either book. Both are wonderful creations, though very much on the long side.
Since then I have dipped into post Yugoslav literature. Death of the Little Match Girl is by Croatian writer Zoran Ferić, while The Tiger’s Wife is by Serbian author Tea Obreht. Ferić writes in Croatian, while Obreht, who left Serbia as a child, writes in English and now lives in the USA. Book books are rather strange and unsettling affairs. Not surprising as both deal, in an offstage kind of way with the wars that followed the break up of Yugoslavia. Interesting and on the whole successful attempts at story telling. I now need to find two more books from Eastern Europe.
In addition to the Eastern European Challenge I set myself some non formal challenges of my own for the year. I had hoped to dip into Japanese literature again but so far I have not managed one. I have however read three books about China which would qualify me for the Merchant level in The Chinese Literature Challenge. Two are by Chinese women writers who now live in the West and both deal with the travails of growing up in China. Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah is the author’s personal story of her and her family’s life in both pre and post revolutionary China and then subsequently in the USA. She had a pretty unhappy childhood as she was actively disliked by her stepmother. Miss Chopsticks by Xinran is an altogether more upbeat and light hearted tale of how young peasant women are beginning to empower themselves in the new China. River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh is the second part of the Bengali writer’s trilogy set in the 1830s. As most of the action in this novel takes place in and around Canton it qualifies for the Chinese Challenge. River of Smoke is a great book about the interaction between Chinese and foreigners at the time of the 1st Opium War. I have also read one other book by an Asian writer. The Calligrapher’s Daughter by Eugenia Kim is set in Korea and vividly describes life in that country before and during the Japanese occupation. This means that I have also made it for the East and South East Asia Challenge, as I can count two of the previously mentioned books for this challenge.
Another of my informal challenges was to continue reading lots of Scandinavian crime novels. In particular I wanted to finish the Jo Nesbø series. This I have managed to do quite easily and very enjoyably. Just about everything I read from Scandinavia is very, very good. I am now up-to-date with Jo Nesbø’s works. Luckily I have come across a writer new to me - Mari Jungstedt from Sweden who writes about a detective based on the Baltic island of Gotland. So far I have read one of this series, The Death of Summer and very good it was too.
Reading some books in German was another personal challenge and I have stubbornly stuck to it. I say stubbornly as it is not at all easy for me to read books written in German. But with the help of the dictionary I usually manage to get through. So far I have read three books in German, two by Swiss writers - Die Haushälterin by Jens Petersen, a tender tale about the fraught relationship between a teenager and his widowed father; and Silberkiesel, a crime novel set in Basel, by Hansjörg Schneider. The third was another krimi by Austrian writer Heinrich Steinfest.
I also planned to read more books in Spanish this year. The challenge was to read one each month. This I have not managed to do, partly because I have interspersed Spanish language books with German language books. Nevertheless I have read four books in Spanish. All of them crime novels and all very good. In order of reading they were: Un Crimen Imperfecto, by Teresa Solanas; Ojos de Agua by Domingo Villar: Ritos de Muerte by Alicia Gimenez Bartlett and Dulce Amor a Muerte by Guillermo Arriaga. The first three are by Spanish writers, while the last is by a Mexican author. As part of my Spanish language challenge I intend to sign up for another challenge - the Argentina Reading Challenge. I hope to achieve the Student level, which requires me to read three books by Argentinian authors. I now have two such books, again both crime novels - Plata Quemada by Ricardo Piglia and El Enigma de París by Pablo De Santis. This challenge ends in February 2012, so I have until then to find one more book by an Argentinian author. Wish me luck.