March saw a bit of a blip in the number of books read. I completed five books, though I started six. Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid was the odd one out. I had previously read his wonderful allegory/satire on America and Islam, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and was looking forward to this novel. Alas it is not anything like as interesting or convincing as The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It was also written before that book and as it covers some of the same themes falls down in comparison. The five I did complete consisted of two crime novels, both audiobooks, one general fiction, a collection of short stories and one non-fiction book.
That way murder lies is the second crime novel by Ann Granger that I have now read. This one was the fifteenth and final in the Mitchell and Markby series, which are set in rural Cotswolds. A good, one might say old fashioned crime novel.
How the Light Gets In is the latest novel by Canadian writer Louise Penny. I think I have read all the books in this wonderful series featuring Inspector Armand Gamache. This one just might be the last in the series, as it brings together and resolves a number of strands and mysteries from previous novels. This is a really good series and despite the murders paints a very positive image of rural Québec.
Hannah’s Daughters by Swedish author Marianne Frederikson is a generational tale about the lives of three women – Hannah, her daughter Johanna, and her granddaughter Anna. The life stories are framed by Anna’s account and reflections on her own life and her memories of her mother and grandmother. The timespan goes from the 1860s to about 1990. The early part of the story is set in a very poor and rural part of Sweden, Dalsland, which lies to the north of Gothenburg on the Norwegian border. This is perhaps the most interesting part as the life it describes is so different from our modern lives today. Eventually the family move to Gothenburg, but remain in relative poverty for much of the time. Things do change for the better as modern, social democratic Sweden emerges. One constant remains – the hardships endured by women.
Shire is a collection of four very short stories by Ali Smith. All are focussed in some way on the life of Scottish poet Olive Fraser. The stories vary from the biographical to the mythical. All are really short and very intense, but powerful and rewarding. Makes me want to read some of Olive Fraser’s poetry.
I saw Ramallah by Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti was written after Barghouti’s return visit to his homeland in 1996 after an enforced absence of 30 years. He had left in 1966 to continue his studies at university in Cairo, but after the war of 67 and the occupation of the West Bank he was refused permission to return. He soon suffered a further exile when a few years later he was expelled from Egypt by Anwar Sadat. The book does not in fact tell us very much about Ramallah, though there are some vivid descriptions of his home village nearby. Rather this is an evocative and philosophical reflection on exile and on being a Palestinian. The ever present oppressive reality of the occupation is never far away. For Barghouti this conditions everything about Palestine. I saw Ramallah is a very sensitive series of reflections on how the occupation has made most Palestinians exiles in one form or another. An excellent book which offers us a rarely heard view from Palestine.