Clearing the Backlog

I’m so far behind in reviewing that I’m almost paralysed by it. So there’s only one solution: a mass review of books I’ve read over the last 3 months. Here goes:

You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt. I really liked this one. Coming of age against the backdrop of Communist Russia. So many good things about it, if only I could remember it more clearly.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I was disappointed in this one as I am normally a fan of Ann Patchett. It gets off to a really slow start, in my opinion. It does, however, find its footing by about halfway through. If you’re an Ann Patchett fan, you’re going to read this regardless of what I say, but if you’ve not read Patchett before, I might not start here.

Peacekeeping by Mischa Berlinski. In the beginning I loved this book, but ultimately it was a little too long. Set in Haiti, it had a really interesting look at local politics and NGOs. The cover is great though, and i do plan to go back and read Feildwork, one of Berlinski’s earlier novels that I remember loving.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch. I really liked Koch’s two previous novels. They had a very Koch feel to them. That feel is lacking in Dear Mr M.  That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, but if you’re looking for that distinctive Koch uncomfortableness, it isn’t so apparent here. The one thing i did like about it though, is that it’s about a writer. That always gets me.

The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah. If Orange is The New Black were set in a Zimbabwean prison, you might get this book. It is a great book and one that I highly recommend. Propulsive story, great characters, skilled writing.

So there, it’s done. Backlog cleared. Hopefully this means I can get back into the groove.

The Magic of Saida by M.G. Vassanji

magic-of-saidaM.G. Vassanji has long been a favorite writer of mine. I’ve had The Magic of Saida sitting on my shelf for years now – it moved from Canada to Scotland with us – but it just hasn’t been calling to me. In fact, many of his more recent books haven’t hit me the way his earlier works did. So what did i think of The Magic of Saida? Continue reading

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

The Fishermen by Chigozie ObiomaLet’s just say I had high hopes going into The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma and I was not let down. There has been a lot of murmuring in literary circles that Obioma is one to watch and I think people are right – Obioma can write! Continue reading

O, Africa by Andrew Lewis Conn

O AfricaYet again, I should have read the blurb more carefully when I picked this book. True, O, Africa by Andrew Lewis Conn is partially set in Africa in the 1920’s, but it was still not what I’d envisioned (ie/ Out of Africa). I should have read the comparisons to Chabon’s Cavalier and Clay and Doctorow’s Ragtime to know that this was not the book for me. Continue reading

The Explorers by Martin Dugard

the explorersThe title of The Explorers by Martin Dugard pretty much gives away what it is about – explorers. Specifically, Dugard looks at the seven qualities he believes have guided explorers through time and not just in the field of global exploration. These are curiosity, hope, passion, courage, independence, self-discipline, and perseverance. Dugard knows the topic well, as he has previously written books on Columbus, Stanley and Livingston, and Captain Cook. Continue reading

Local Customs by Audrey Thomas

local-customsIs it just me or is Audrey Thomas one of Canada’s most underrated writers? She’s won numerous prizes for her works over the years, and yet she doesn’t seem to garner the same sort of attention and conversation as Carol Shields or Elizabeth Hay. Her new novel, Local Customs, is a fabulous and fascinating true tale that I read in one sitting. Continue reading

Foreign Gods Inc. by Okey Ndibe

foreigngodsReading more diversely seems to be on everyone’s minds these days. I read to escape, so I love reading about other places and experiences far from my own. That is what attracted me to Foreign Gods Inc by Okey Ndibe. The story follows a Nigerian cab driver from New York on his quest back to his home village to steal the local god. This he hoped to convert into fast cash at a posh art shop back in New York. Yeah, this is pretty far from my own experience.

I ended up having very mixed feelings about the novel. I felt that the parts that took place in New York were well written and engaging. Before I started the book I was most looking forward to the parts set in Nigeria, but to me those sections fell short. In particular, Ndibe spent far too many pages recounting the fate of an early missionary to his village. On the other hand, the speech and diction of some of the village characters was brilliant.

So where does that leave me? Well, it has been about a week since i read the book, and over all my feeling are more positive than negative. The story was interesting, the perils of an America-returned villager were well cast and the family dynamics were heart breaking.

Who would like this book? This book appealed to the traveler in me. I love the exotic and to me Nigerian village is exotic, as is the life of a cabbie in New York. In some ways Foreign Gods Inc was reminiscent of Ghana Must GoBoth recount the experiences of African immigrants to the United States, and what it is like to return home. However, Ghana Must Go was a more finely crafted novel and more literary. Foreign Gods Inc is a faster read, that still provides valuable insight.

I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.