Recently read

My nose is stuffed up and you won’t believe the number of tissues piled up next to me. So I’m taking a short cut and writing some mini reviews instead. And then I’m off to the couch to finish reading some books due on Friday.

French Milk – Lucy Knisley

I think I had too high expectations for this book, having seen it featured on quite a few blogs. It was a fun read, but I think I was expecting a little bit more depth to it, and not just a travelogue. Perhaps a little more detail about her relationship with her mother, with whom she travels to Paris. Oh well.

Sardines: A Novel (Variations on the Theme of An African Dictatorship) – Nuruddin Farah

A difficult read this one, mostly because it is dark, grey, very internal, with an oppressive government just looming behind everyone. Sardines follows the lives of Medina, who loses her job as the editor of the national newspaper of Somalia. She struggles to bring up her young daughter Ubax, as her friend Sagal is herself trying to figure out whether she wants to flee Somalia or take part in some subversive political action, and discovering that she might be pregnant. Farah tends towards metaphors and lyrical, but meandering prose, but Sardines was in the end an interesting, complex read. Sardines is part two of Farah’s Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship trilogy which also includes Sweet and Sour Milk and Close Sesame, which, judging from Sardines, can be read independently.

The Witch of Exmoor – Margaret Drabble

My first Margaret Drabble! I liked how it opened with a family dinner, as I’m a sucker for books that feature food. It takes a while for us to actually meet the ‘witch’, that is, Freida Palmer, the matriarch of the family who has just moved into a ruin of a house in Exmoore, as quite a bit of the story is about her three children and their respective families. Frieda then disappears about halfway through the novel, and the focus is then back on her family’s exploration of their eccentric mother. I got a little irritated by that, as I was more interested in Frieda than her whiny family, and the omniscient narrator can get a little too much in this King Lear-ish adaptation.

Around the World in 80 Days – Jules Verne

I always thought I knew the plot of this classic, but the more I read, the more I realised that I didn’t! I never knew about the policeman who was on Phileas Fogg’s case, for instance, nor of the young Indian woman they rescue from impending death. A fun adventure which even made its way through Singapore!

Watching The Tree: A Chinese Daughter Reflects on Happiness, Traditions, and Spiritual Wisdom – Adeline Yen Mah

Despite having grandparents who were Taoist/Buddhist, I never knew much about these religions. Watching The Tree uses various anecdotes from Mah’s life as she discusses everything from language to food to Confucianism (which seems to be given a bit of a hostile treatment). I did have some issues with the hanyu pinyin (a kind of romanised transcription of the Chinese characters), which were a bit wanting – and in one case completely wrong. A decent read for those wanting a little bit of insight into Chinese culture.