Exploring novels set in Jamaica – World Party Reading Challenge

Books set in Jamaica - The Long Song by Andrea LevyWell, I have been a dismal failure in keeping up with my own (inherited!) challenge…but as with all setbacks, there is nothing to be done but to pick yourself up and carry on.

So for now, we are all going to have to do a little bit of creative calendaring and pretend we are back in April…while we make a little trip to Jamaica for the World Party Reading Challenge.

There was really no choice for me when it came to considering books set in Jamaica – I knew exactly which one I wanted to read. Andrea Levy’s The Long Song has been on my TBR list ever since it came out last year, so I have just download it onto my kindle (yes, I have succumbed!) and am keen to get started.

The novel is set in the 19th century and is the story of July, a Jamaican house slave on a sugar plantation. July grows up at a time when calls for freedom are gathering, culminating in a slave revolt which leads to emancipation in 1838 – so I’m guessing we will experience a whole heap of Jamaican history through July’s eyes.

I know little about Jamaica, so am looking forward to finding out more.

A couple of other novels you may want to consider are….

The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson in which we witness political change and the Books set in Jamaica - The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompsonglamor of Hollywood visitors to the island through three generations of women. After screen legend Errol Flynn is nearly shipwrecked off the Jamaican coast, he sets up home on Navy Island, where he holds glittering parties and has an affair with a young Jamaican girl, Ida. The story of Jamaica’s tumultuous struggle for self-rule and its eventual independence are all part of this novel which centers on Ida as she attempts to care for the child Flynn leaves behind.

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James is another story of slavery and rebellion on a Jamaican sugar caneBooks set in Jamaica - The Book of Night Women by Marlon James plantation. Written in Jamaican patois, this story of the slave girl Lillith and the ‘Night Women’ who plot to bring about change reveals the brutality and horror of the time.

And there are several others listed at our Jamaica page, so take a look and see if anything there inspires you.

Here’s a few of the important bits of Jamaican history you will want to keep in mind as you are reading.

  • Jamaica is in the Caribbean Sea about 90 miles (145 kilometres) south of Cuba. It was first claimed by the Spanish, and then became a British colony after it was seized by the English in 1655. It is still part of the British Commonwealth.
  • Slavery was part of Jamaica from the days of Spanish colonialism when African slaves were brought to the island. The trading of slaves was banned in 1807, but it was the 1830’s before slavery itself was officially abolished.
  • Jamaica became independent in 1962 after a brief time being a part of the Federation of West Indies.

Now if you have been incredibly organised and have actually read your Jamaica book already, then I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Or if you have a review of a book set in Jamaica on your own blog, then give us a link so we can all see what you think….

But if, like me, you are still thinking you are in April…then now is the perfect time to get started

UPDATE: To read my review of The Long Song, click here.

Suzi

Enjoyed this post? Have a look at our other World Party Reading Challenge selections.

Afghanistan
Turkey
Greece
Iran
England
Ireland
Pakistan
Russia
Spain
Thailand

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Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com)


World Party Reading Challenge – Books set in Ireland

Well, I am only just scraping in this “March – Books set in Ireland” episode of the World Party Reading Challenge by the skin of my teeth – I blame it on St Patrick’s Day on March 17 – it takes forever to recover from such an event!

It is almost impossible to know where to start when discussing books set in Ireland – a country with such a rich literary history.

Books set in Ireland - Ulysses by James Joyce There are, of course, the classics of Irish literature, like James Joyce and Frank O’Connor, who both wrote works set in Ireland. Or you could go to the other extreme and indulge yourself in the gentle family sagas of Maeve Binchy or the chicklit of Marian Keyes.

I wasn’t quite up for Joyce and wanted something a little more challenging than Keyes this month, so I settled on the lovely, lyrical prose of Sebastian Barry.

Barry’s The Secret Scripture is the story of Roseanne McNulty,  the 100ish-year old inmate of a psychiatric hospital in the town of Roscommon whoBooks set in Ireland - The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry begins writing her autobiography, just as a doctor at the hospital does his own investigation into her past in a bid to determine where she should live once the institution is closed down.

But while this part of the narrative is set in Roscommon, it is the town of Sligo in the 20’s and 30’s we really get to know in this novel, through Roseanne’s memories and Dr. Grene’s exploration of her past.

Sligo is where Roseanne grew up and lived before her institutionalization and the novel gives us a pretty thorough look at both its landscape and character. At times, it is overwhelmingly bleak  “as it was raining with that special  Sligo rain that has made bogland of a thousand ancient farms” (p96) while at others we experience the tantalizingly brief bursts of sunshine which mirror Roseanne’s life…“Oh yes, the beach at Strandhill, high tide as it was, is good for a little, and then it plunges down, you are suddenly in the big water of the bay there” (p150).

From “the devious roads of Ireland” (p9) to the observations of national character “a hot Irish day is such a miracle we become mad foreigners in a twinkle” (p149), this novel gives an achingly beautiful snapshot of rural Ireland in a particular era.  And crucial to this is the country’s political history, which permeates every aspect of the novel.

This was a time of civil war and the fledgling Irish Free State, where a person’s allegiances and politics could determine their fate, and The Secret Scripture reminds us of how brutal such times could be. And then, of course, there is the other huge influence on all who lived in Ireland – that of the Catholic church. The influence of a priest was all it took to determine Roseanne’s future…

I loved this book. While its conclusion may require a bit of suspension of disbelief, it remains a stunningly beautiful novel, and I delighted in Barry’s poetic prose. It is a story of betrayal, survival and redemption, as well as being a mystery, as we question the role of memory in any exploration of the past.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who fancies delving a little deeper into Irish history, and if after you finish reading it you have a longing for a little more of the McNulty clan, then a look back at Barry’s previous works reveals The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, a prequel of sorts to The Secret Scripture.

If you are seeking a gentle, moving novel set in Ireland, this is an ideal choice. Some complain of a slow start, but I didn’t feel it – perhaps because I was so engaged in Barry’s stunning turns of phrase. But if this is not for you, then there are many other books set in Ireland to explore, and I’d love to hear more about your choices. If you have taken part in the World Party Reading Challenge and have written a review on an Irish-set book, then let us know where we can find it in the comments…

Suzi

Enjoyed this post? Have a look at our other World Party Reading Challenge selections.

Afghanistan
Turkey
Greece
Iran
England
Jamaica
Pakistan
Russia
Spain
Thailand

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Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com)


Books set in England – World Party Reading Challenge

Houses of Parliament. Image courtesy of Maurice via Wikimedia CommonsThis month we turn to England for our World Party Reading Challenge – and I have to admit that for me, a country like England is more of a challenge than just about any other country we have looked at.

I mean where do you start? There must be hundreds of thousands of novels set in England to choose from.

If you don’t actually live in England yourself, you may very well have quite a romantic view of the country. You might be considering a bit of Jane Austen or one of the Bronte sisters for your choice of novel. And why not? Reading Austen is a delight, and I am in awe of the ‘art of conversation’ which is revealed through her writing. I could never imagine being that witty in my day-to-day discussions with people. But then again, I guess in those days young ladies had a lot more time to develop their witty turns of phrase than those of us battling commuter traffic each day in the modern age. If you are hankering for a bit of England from days gone by, then this is ideal.

View Books set in England

You could go for some war-time drama, definitely one of the defining periods of English history. Books like The Night Watch by Sarah Waters or Andrea Levy’s Small Island give us quite a picture of what it was like to be in London when German bombs were falling from the sky.

And then there is a novel that has been recommended to me many times, but which I have not yet got around to reading, and that is the 1889 classic Three Men in a Boat, which I am reliably informed is one of the funniest books on earth. It is about three hypochondriacs (and a dog) who decide to head up the River Thames in a rowboat for an adventure in rough living. Not only is it bound to make you laugh, you will get a lovely glimpse of English river life.

There is high praise indeed from John Neville on Amazon.

“It doesn’t matter how many times you read it. This is quite simply the funniest book ever written in the English language. Yes, it’s based in an age long gone; but it’s great to know that self-effacing, typical British humour hasn’t changed one iota.”

But I decided to read something far more gritty and confronting, especially for someone who actually lives in the UnitedBooks set in England Kingdom.

Amanda Craig’s Hearts and Minds is not an easy read.

It is the story of a group of people who live in contemporary London – a Zimbabwean taxi driver, a South African teacher, an American journalist, a British human rights lawyer, a Russian au pair and a young Ukrainian girl who is trafficked to the UK to become a prostitute. It may seem a motley crew of characters, but it is probably far more representative of London than in most other novels you will read.

The story begins with the dumping of a body near the ponds at Hampstead Heath (an old stomping ground of mine – so I was immediately hooked), which in the end, connects all these characters together.

What is challenging about this novel is that it forces us to see that while we all go about our generally middle-class British lives, there is an underworld on which the whole city depends. Most of London’s middle-class could not exist in its current state without its Polish cleaners, East European nannies and African and Middle Eastern taxi-drivers. But with that comes exploitation, personified here at its very worst with Anna, the 15-year old Ukrainian who travels to England in search of a better life and a job as a chambermaid or a waitress, only to be thrown deep into the sex-trade.

Some people have criticized this novel for being too preachy – but if it makes any of us take a little closer look at London, and the people that gravitate towards it, then it has done its job. Yes, it’s a city of high-fliers — city-bankers, pop stars and foreign millionaires fill the newspapers with their exploits — but this is also a city in which those on the minimum wage cannot afford to take the train, relying instead on two-hour bus journeys to travel to work each day as cleaners at the Houses of Parliament. And that is the world we know about. There is plenty more that we do not.

Hearts and Minds was an eye-opener for me. We all like to believe that others have lives which are as good as our own, especially when we live in one of the richest cities in the world. And while you hear about such things as the human ‘slave trade’ in London, we are rarely actually confronted with it. This novel makes it all too real.

This will not be for everyone, and if not, there is an endless list of books set in England available, many more than we have cataloged here at Packabook. Which ones have you been reading? Let us know in the comments below, as we explore this tiny island together…

Suzi

Enjoyed this post? Have a look at our other World Party Reading Challenge selections.

Afghanistan
Turkey
Greece
Iran
Ireland
Jamaica
Pakistan
Russia
Spain
Thailand

——————————————————————–

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com)


Two books set in Iran – World Party Reading Challenge

Books set in Iran Wow! What a fascinating time it is to be reading books set in Iran – a country very much defined by its 1979 revolution.

As people take to the streets in Tunisia and Egypt, it is impossible not to compare the situation with Iran. (PLEASE NOTE – THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN EARLY FEBRUARY, 2011)

While there are many differences – perhaps one of the most important being that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have so far not been driven by Islamist movements, though this will most certainly be an element in the aftermath – there are also similarities. In all three countries we are looking at autocratic leaders who have been in place for decades, and populations who are fed up with economic hardship, cronyism and corruption.

And whenever there is dramatic political change like this (as I write Egyptians are gathering for a massive protest in Tahrir Square and President Hosni Mubarak is still clinging to power) there is huge uncertainty, as well as the risk of retribution and suffering to follow.

The Septembers of Shiraz

Which brings us to Dalia Sofer’s The Septembers of Shiraz, my first choice of Books set in Iran novel for our Iran.

I loved this book, despite its dark subject matter. It is Tehran in 1981, a couple of years after the Revolution, and Isaac Amin is not popular with the new guard. He is a successful businessman, a Jew, and is perceived as having had a life of privilege. Things don’t bode well for Isaac and he is arrested by the Revolutionary Guard. (I am not giving anything away here, as it happens on page one!) For the rest of the novel we follow Isaac and the members of his family as they attempt to deal with his imprisonment and decide what they must do to protect their own safety.

There is a beautiful light touch to Sofer’s writing which immediately drew me in. From the opening scene I delighted in the detail. As Isaac is being arrested he “looks down at his desk, at the indifferent items witnessing this event – the scattered files, a metal paperweight, a box of Dunhill cigarettes, a crystal ashtray, and a cup of tea, freshly brewed, two mint leaves floating inside. And as the story develops, I became increasingly fascinated by the world Sofer presents.

This novel does not focus on the Revolution itself, but on the aftermath – and the chaos and confusion that takes place in uncertain times. Given that we know what lies ahead it is easy for us to look in from the outside and silently beg the characters to just get up and leave the country, but at the same time we can understand their unwillingness to leave everything they have worked for over a lifetime. And would you go if it meant leaving someone behind? An ageing parent? An imprisoned spouse?

There are many occasions in Septembers of Shiraz in which we are taken back to times before the Revolution, giving us a glimpse of what life in Iran was like then, for those with money. This was a ‘Westernized’ Iran in which women had far greater freedoms and religion was a choice, quite different from the country it is today.

We get some idea of the landscape around Tehran “…when the snow-covered Elburz Mountains slowly unveiled themselves in the red-orange light” as well as some brief visits to other places such as Isfahan, Shiraz and Persepolis. But this is a novel which concentrates more on Iran’s history than giving specifics about the locations themselves. And Sofer manages to bring the history alive with detail such as “Farnaz walks through the narrow street, framed on both sides by short brick walls, along which is a row of bloody handprints – a common site, nowadays – the stamp of revolutionaries displaying their sacrifice and their willingness to die.”

My only disappointment with this novel was the ending. It felt rushed after the gentle flow of the rest of the book, and did not hold the tension it needed. But other than that I would highly recommend Septembers of Shiraz for anyone wanting to know a little more about the changing face of Iran.

The Saffron Kitchen

Books set in IranHaving survived the aftermath of the Revolution, I turned to Yasmin Crowther’s The Saffron Kitchen, set in contemporaryish London and Iran, with extended flashbacks to what is likely to be the early 1950’s (I don’t think dates are actually mentioned in the novel but some of the historic events date back to that time).

This novel did not work quite as well for me, there was some bothersome issues with the plot and Crowther does not have as elegant a turn of phrase as Sofer.

From a Packabook perspective it does not really give as much of a view of modern Iran as I would have liked, as the bulk of the contemporary scenes take place in a very small village which, like villages just about everywhere, cannot be seen as an accurate representation of the country as a whole.

This is the story of Maryam, the teenage daughter of one of the Shah’s generals, who is desperate to escape the fate of her mother and older sister, refusing to marry the man her father has chosen for her. She wants to be “useful”, to train as a nurse and see something of the world – all of which she does, but not quite in the way she had hoped.

Some 40-odd years later we find Maryam in London, with an English husband and a grown-up daughter of her own. Without giving away too much of the plot, she has lived most of her life away from Iran, disowned by her father and disconnected from her culture – and when an argument with her daughter leads to tragedy, she makes her way back to Iran to reconnect with her past.

While the young Maryam is sympathetic, her older incarnation is less so – I found myself annoyed with her self-obsession while at the same time understanding her desire to find the great love of her youth. And you cannot help feeling that Maryam doesn’t quite appreciate just how good she has had it compared to what would have been her likely fate had she stayed in Iran.

Much of the action takes place in Iran’s second largest city Mashhad, far off to the east of the country, close to the borders of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. And from there we move to what I imagine is a fictional village – Mazareh. I enjoyed the descriptions of the landscape around Mazareh – it truly felt remote, and it was not hard to imagine the snow-covered mountainous terrain.

This is a far more insular novel than Septembers of Shiraz, much more about Maryam’s relationships, both with real people as well as her culture and past than actual events. While it did not engage me as much as I’d hoped, it did give me yet another perspective on a country I still feel I know so little about.

So how did you go with your own exploration of Iran in January’s challenge? I’d love to hear what you have been reading – so why don’t you head over to the main January post and leave a note in the comments. It is also the best place to find a bit more history of the Iranian Revolution and to give us a link to your own review…

For February, we are in much more familiar territory for many of us – England!

Suzi

Enjoyed this post? Have a look at our other World Party Reading Challenge selections.

Afghanistan
Turkey
Greece
England
Ireland
Jamaica
Pakistan
Russia
Spain
Thailand

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com)


January World Party Reading Challenge – Books Set in Iran

And so we move headlong into January and some books set in Iran for our World Party Reading Challenge this month.  I have been particularly looking forward to this challenge for a number of reasons.
worldpartybutton

  • I am not sure I have ever read a book set in Iran.
  • There is a lot of history which is still very relevant considering current events
  • Women are well-represented as writers and subjects of Iranian fiction
  • The covers on many Iranian novels are sensational and pretty much irresistible

Not knowing quite where to start, I have put in an Amazon order for two of the novels from the fantastic selection available. The cover of The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia
The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer - Books set in Iran Sofer immediately called out to me and on reading the synopsis I decided it would be an excellent introduction to one of the country’s most significant events – the Islamic Revolution. The novel begins a couple of years after the overthrow of the shah in 1979 and looks at the impact it had on one Iranian family. Personalizing the story like this is always a winner for me.

The revolution is a defining point in Iran’s history, and is constantly referred to in any analysis of present day Iranian society and politics. And as it also helps our reading of the novels if we have an understanding of the history behind them, here’s a quick breakdown of events.

The Iranian Revolution – At a Glance

  • In the 1970’s Iran was led by a pro-Western shah – Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlav
  • He faced opposition from the left and right – those who thought he wasn’t reforming fast enough as well as those who believed westernisation was wrong for Iran. There was also general criticism of his autocratic style, and corruption in his government
  • Dissatisfaction in his rule grew during the 1970’s
  • At the same time support grew for the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a Shi’ite religious leader living in exile in Paris
  • In 1978, thousands of young people took to the streets both from the secular left and the religious right. Many people were killed by government forces. There were more protests….and an ongoing cycle of violence.
  • There was growing religious fervor and in the evenings people in Tehran called out the revolutionary rallying cry Allāhu akbar (“God is great”) from their rooftops.
  • On January 16, 1979, the shah left the country, with Khomeini taking over
  • On April 1, Khomeini declared Iran an Islamic republic. He had the overwhelming support of the public. Islamic codes of dress were enforced and the informal religious militia, the Revolutionary Guard, worked with clerics to suppress political opposition and Western  cultural influence.
  • Many of the Western-educated elite fled the country.

Have a look at this History Channel clip with some great footage from the time.

Iranian Revolution video

The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther

The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther - Books set in Iran My second choice of novel (you never know, I might not like the first one and I like to have my bases covered!) is The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther, and is set many years later. It is the story of Maryam who left Iran after the revolution, settling in England. Many years later, after a severe falling out with her adult daughter which had tragic consequences, she returns to her childhood Iranian village to try and make sense of the past.

This books seems a good follow-up to Septembers of Shiraz, giving us the later perspective. But I will let you know what I think once I have read them both.

Come join us…

Will you be joining us on the Iranian World Party Reading Challenge? There are so many promising looking books set in Iran to choose from, I’m sure we could tempt you to give it a go……

Let us know in the comments below what you are planning to read, and that is also a mighty fine place to leave a link to your review once you have finished….

I can’t wait to see what else you all discover.

Suzi

UPDATE: You can now read the reviews of The Saffron Kitchen and Septembers of Shiraz here.

Enjoyed this post? Have a look at our other World Party Reading Challenge selections.

Afghanistan
Turkey
Greece
England
Ireland
Jamaica
Pakistan
Russia
Spain
Thailand

——————————————————————————————-

Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com)


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Please note - if you read our reviews and click on our links to buy books, we will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and we thank you for your support! Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com