World Party Reading Challenge – Books set in Greece

Books set in Greece - photo by chris1961Well, the holiday season has definitely got the better of me, and I am extremely late bringing you this introduction to our “Greece World Party Challenge” in which we plan to explore books set in Greece.
.
Given that this winter is proving to be a pretty tough one in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, you would think I’d be jumping on any opportunity to read books that conjure up images of sandy white beaches and glasses of retsina in the sunshine. But actually, when I look at the books I’m considering for this challenge, I notice there’s not a lot of lazing about in the sand going on. In fact, as is common with so many of the books I seem to attract – there is a fair bit of war and misery. I am trying not to spend too much time thinking about what that says about me!
.
I have read several novels over the years that are set in Greece, and I thought I might re-read one of them for this challenge, given that I seem to have a complete ability to forget the content of books about a year after I’ve read them, no matter how enjoyable they are.
.
But which one should I choose?
.Books set in Greece - Corelli's Mandolin
There is Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières, which I remember loving when it first came out many moons ago, but I wonder whether a more grown up me will still enjoy it. The book is set on the island of Cephallonia during the Italian occupation of World War Two and the ensuing Civil War. While the circumstances were fairly dire, I remember there being a great deal of humor, and a fair bit of romance in the novel, so there is some laughter amongst the pain.
.
Looking at the reviews De Bernières is sometimes criticized for using words with too many syllables just for the sake of it, for making factual errors, and for writing what some believe is a clichéd romance. But the majority of readers seem to fall in love with his characters, finding the novel both funny and charming. It might indeed be worth a second look.
.
I didn’t mind Victoria Hislop’s The Island which, while not a taxing read, didBooks set in Greece - The Island by Victoria Hislop open my eyes to an historical circumstance I wasn’t aware of – the use of the island of Spinalonga (off Crete) as a leper colony in the first half of the 20th century.
.
If you are looking for an easy read and some fascinating history, then this might be for you – just don’t expect a literary masterpiece.
.
And while I could branch out into something I have never read, like The Magus by John Fowles or the works of Irini Spanidou – there’s a book I read 20 years ago that I have always wanted to re-visit, and this seems the ideal opportunity.
.
Novels set in Greece - Eleni by Nicholas GageEleni is a terrifying story of Greece’s civil war and one woman’s attempt to keep her family safe.
.
The fact I remember it after all this time shows what a profound impact it had on me, and I long to see if it is as good as I remember. And it has the added interest of being written by Eleni’s son – a work of “faction” by a character in the book, something which intrigues me.
.
Yep – I think this might be the one.
.
But as I take it down off the shelf I realize it is quite a lengthy book – and with us already in mid-December it is obvious I must now abandon all attempts at Christmas shopping and preparations. Instead it is time to light the fire and settle down to the task at hand. What a chore!
.
What will you share with us in December? Leave us a note in the comments. We’d love some other ideas of books set in Greece to get our teeth into! And if you are looking for some more suggestions from me try these Greece-inspired novels.
τα λέμε αργότερα
Suzi.
.
PS. Couldn’t resist sharing this review of Eleni from Amazon below:
“It was no Con Air” , July 31, 2008
By Andrew Carr
This review is from: Eleni (Paperback)
I’m generally not into reading, but I decided that I would give this one a shot, expecting it to be as good as Face/Off. Boy was I mistaken. Cage should stick to acting. Do you remember in Snake Eyes when he punched that guy in the face? Do you remember in Boy in Blue when he punched that guy in the face? I enjoyed those moments more than I enjoyed reading Cage’s book, or reading anything for that matter.
.
Enjoyed this post? Have a look at our other World Party Reading Challenge selections.
————————————————————————————————
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)


Exploring books set in Turkey – World Party Reading Challenge

A quick post today to get us started on our Turkey challenge for the month of November….

For many people, the most obvious writer to spring to mind would be Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, the creator of novels such as My Name is Red, Snow and The Museum of Innocence.

I am actually most of the way through Museum of Innocence, and while I am enjoying aspects of it, it is kind of a tough read. It might be because I am reading it in fits and bursts, but the novel is a 560-page story of one man’s obsessive love for his cousin, and at times it is truly agonizing. Unfortunately I cannot give you a proper review of this book, as I am now traveling for the rest of November and I am afraid Pamuk is just too big to carry with me, so Museum of Innocence remains unfinished this month.

Instead my novel of choice for this challenge is Gardens of Water by Alan Drew.
.
On August 17, 1999, northwestern Turkey was hit by a powerful earthquake which killed around 17,000 people and left about half a million without homes. (More info on the earthquake from the BBC)
.
The novel is the story of an Istanbul family and the impact this event had on them, both in the immediate aftermath and many months into the future.
.
Shopkeeper Sinan is a Kurdish refugee who desperately tries to keep a hold on his family, religion and values after the earthquake throws everything intochaos. His teenage daughter Irem has fallen in love with an American boy, his home is destroyed, and cultural and religious clashes abound as the city is filled with well-meaning foreigners who have arrived to ‘save’ both the bodies and souls of the victims.
.
For those of us with liberal Western upbringings, Sinan’s stubbornness, pride, inability to let go of grudges and patriarchal values will be a challenge, but this is one of the many aspects of the novel I enjoyed. I am forced into Sinan’s shoes. I wouldn’t want him to be my father, but I find myself on his side on many occasions, and willing him to accept that he must adapt to the inevitable changes surrounding him.
.
As always I am fascinated by novels based on historical events. I may not have paid a great deal of attention to the 1999 earthquake at the time, but ever since reading this novel, it is etched in my ‘memory’ forever. I had actually read the book several months before the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and I am sure that my understanding of that disaster was enhanced by reading Gardens of Water. Even now, almost a year later, I know characters similar to Sinan and Irem are continuing to try and rebuild their lives in devastated Haiti, long after the world’s attention has passed.
.
I also enjoyed the books’s exploration of the relationship between Turks and Kurds, an ongoing discord which I knew very little about. While the novel does not go into the issue in any great depth, it is always helpful to have characters like Sinan in mind when trying to make sense of historical conflicts such as this.
.
So that’s me for Turkey….what are you reading? Are you attempting Pamuk? Or do you have some other wonderful reads you can share with us? For inspiration, have a look at Packabook’s books set in Turkey shopfront, and make your choice.
.
Let us know in the comments below what you plan to read and then leave us a link to any reviews of Turkish-linked books on your own blog…
.
Suzi

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

Afghanistan
Greece
Iran
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)


Finding the joy in Afghanistan – Andrea Busfield’s ‘Born Under a Million Shadows’

Well – not sure what has happened to October, but it is almost over and we are hurtling towards the end of our month highlighting books set in Afghanistan. But if you have just enough time to squeeze in one more, then please, please give Andrea Busfield’s Born Under a Million Shadows a go.

Like the Kite Runner, this book gives us a look at Afghanistan through the eyes of a child – eleven year old Fawad. But Fawad has had a much tougher time of things than the Kite Runner’s Amir. His father and brother have been killed, his sister has been abducted and he and his mother Mariya are forced to rely on family charity.

The opening line of the novel is enough to send a shiver down your spine…

“My name is Fawad and my mother tells me I was born under the shadow of the Taliban.”

But despite this, and the inevitable horrors and bloodshed of any book set in Afghanistan, Born Under a Million Shadows is a delight.

Things look up for Fawad when Mariya becomes the live-in housekeeper for three westerners — NGO worker Georgie, James the journalist and lesbian engineer May. He is understandably suspicious of his mother’s new employers, and takes it upon himself to spy on them, setting the scene for some wonderful interaction and misunderstandings.

The novel is filled with Fawad’s wry humor and observations. Horrified to discover that foreign women don’t know how to wash clothes without the help of a machine, Fawad questions his mother about Georgie’s other domestic deficiencies.

‘Does she sew?’
‘No’
‘Can she cook?’
‘No’
‘Does she have a husband?’
‘No’
‘I’m not suprised.’ – p26
.
And he is a bit perturbed by the foreigners’ Christmas and how it compares with their own celebrations for the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
.

“What we don’t do, however, is drink alcohol from the moment we get up until the moment we fall into bed – or, in James’s case, on the stairs. And after attending my first celebration of Jesus’s birthday I now understand why everybody needs two days off work to recover….As a Muslim I respect the foreigners’ Jesus and I like the fact that they celebrate his birthday even if they have got their facts muddled. However, it was hard to believe that for such a big day in their calendar I never once heard my friends mention Jesus’s name. Although James shouted ‘Christ’ when he slipped on the stairs.” – p103-104

Throughout the novel, Fawad is exposed to a whole lot of perplexing aspects of western culture – alcohol, Christmas, Wikipedia and the Sex Pistols just to name a few – and tries to rationalize how these fit into his own beliefs and upbringing. And while his reactions are so often those of a child, it doesn’t take long to realize that Fawad is a little wiser than the rest of us when it comes to understanding what really matters in the world.

“Beautifully written, touching and laced throughout with humor…. A stunningly assured debut novel from a writer who looks set to be a big star.”—The News of the World (UK)

.
We have read novels before that give us detail of life in Afghanistan, but what I enjoyed about this book was its glimpse into the way locals and foreigners are forced to interact – at least in Kabul. It reminds us that it’s never clear cut, motives are not always obvious and that beneath it all, there is often genuine good will to make a difficult situation work.

There are mentions of contemporary issues and developments – Afghanistan’s first elections, NGO programs and the Karzai government – as well as references to the past. And I’m pleased to see The Buddhas of Bamiyan make another literary appearance (something I believe is mandatory in all novels about Afghanistan!).

“Readers who like to explore other cultures and current events through fiction will find here an intriguing picture of contemporary Afghanistan.”—Library Journal

.
Andrea Busfield, who lived in Afghanistan for several years, has managed to write a novel which provides a bit of everything. By the end of Born Under a Million Shadows I had learnt something, had had a good cry and laughed more than I have for a good long-while.

I really don’t want to give away too much about the story, but it is one filled with love and romance (more than one romance in fact!), heartache, and at times almost inexpressible joy. There are warlords, cashmere goats that need combing and entrepreneurial shop-keepers who offer “Free Delivery and Cak”. There is also a host of truly lovable characters, you really won’t want to say good-bye to.

Here is what Busfield has to say in this interview with The Guardian:

“I don’t think you could find two more different books than The Kite Runner and Born Under a Million Shadows,” she says. “Mine is quite humorous I think. I wanted to capture something different; I didn’t want to do another tragic tale about Afghan people.”

In this, I think she really has succeeded. There is tragedy, but the novel is infiltrated with the black humor that is typical of societies that  have had to find a way to deal with the almost endless despair of their daily lives.

As Fawad’s mother Mariyam tells him…

“Of course, that was long before the Taliban came. Now look at us! We don’t even own a tree from which we can hang ourselves.” – p15.

You’ll need to brace yourself for some colorful street language and gut-wrenching descriptions – but I would be very surprised if you didn’t turn the last page of ‘Born Under a Million Shadows’ and want to start it all over again.

So go on – as I have left it so late to write this post, you have special dispensation to let your Afghanistan journey spill over into the beginning of November.. pick up a copy of Born Under a Million Shadows today, and let us know what you thought of it.

And I leave you with this, from Fawad.

“The foreigners can keep their talk of beautiful scenery and traditional goodness because all of us would swap it in a heartbeat for just one moment’s peace and it’s high time the sorrow that came to plant itself in on our soil just packed up and went away to terrorize someone else.” – p99

Suzi

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

Turkey
Greece
Iran
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)


Help women in Afghanistan – just by reading

For those of you joining us on the Afghanistan reading challenge – I hope all is going well with your chosen books. And if you haven’t got started yet, then maybe this will encourage you.

In my travels around the internet in search of fascinating tidbits about Afghanistan, I came across a truly fantastic project which is completely in the spirit of Packabook. It is the woman’s writing project AWWP , started by the novelist Masha Hamilton, and it is helping to give Afghan women a voice.

If you visit the AWWP site you can read first-hand what these courageous women are writing, often sharing their stories at great risk to themselves. Most take part in secret. I cannot encourage you enough to have a look around, read their stories and comment on their work – this is how they know their stories are making it out to the wider world.

I was so moved by these extraordinary stories that I asked Masha Hamilton whether she’d respond to a few questions about the project, and she kindly agreed.

What inspired you to start the project?
The inspiration actually came back in 1999, when I saw a smuggled video tape that showed the execution of Zarmeena in Kabul.  I understood from this horrific event that Afghan women were not only hidden beneath burqas, but their voices were being silenced. Even after the defeat of the Taliban regime, we rarely hear from Afghan women in their own words, without the filter of media or their men — and that is the mission of this project.

How do you find the women to take part?
In a variety of ways, primarily through direct contacts. The project is spread by word-of-mouth only in Afghanistan.

Most of the contributions from the women appear to be autobiographical or biographical, but do you see a time when they may branch into experimenting with fiction? We certainly need more novels written by Afghan women….
We do have a few women who fictionalize. But many Afghan women who write in our workshops are motivated by a desire to share their own stories, as this has been a path often closed to them and as little worth has been put on their views and experiences.

As a novelist you certainly seem to have a penchant for foreign lands for your settings – what are your thoughts on the contribution novels set in less accessible countries make to our understanding of the world? And will you be writing a book set in Afghanistan?
As a novelist, and as a journalist, I have been drawn to foreign locales for a variety of reasons. One is that I think it helps me understand my own life to view it through another lens. I am working on the next novel now, and yes, Afghanistan does play a small part.

I know you are always looking for donations to help buy women laptops on which to write, but what else are you raising money for?
AWWP’s fundraising at the moment is focused on the writers’ corner that our team is opening up in Kabul, in a safe neighborhood, and a non-descript, unmarked building with a live-in building guard. This is the first step to what we hope will eventually be AWWP support for Afghanistan’s first women-only Internet cafe, so that women in that country can continue to have a pipeline to the outside world, whatever happens on a political or security level. This site, opening this month, will be a place for our writers to read, send us their essays, stories and poems, and also share community along with chai. We are very excited about this step in the project.

I also asked Masha what drove the women to take the risk to write, and she urged me to read what the women themselves had to say. Here are some of their comments.

“The writing project gave me a voice, the project gave me courage to appear as a woman, to tell about my life, to share my pains and experiences. I wonder how big the change in my destiny is because of your work and this project. Who would trust an online class, a writing project, to change a destiny and a faith? AWWP gave me the power to feel I am not only a woman; it gave me a title, an Afghan woman “writer.” … I took the pen and I wrote and everything changed. I learned if I stand, everyone will stand, other women in my country will stand.” —Roya

“I am writing from Farah, a province in western Afghanistan with a low level of education, and still many men do not like that I write and don’t know why I write. They have tried to stop me from writing, but I never gave up. I will do it more and more and show what I’ve tolerated as a woman and how much Afghan people suffer in their lives. I have thousands of words in my heart to tell the world in thanks to the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.” —Seeta

“This project supports Afghan women by showing they are as important as other women in the world. It shows the world that even though Afghan women faced lots of problems, they didn’t lose their ability or courage. It shows the kindness of American women who spend their precious time working for the development of their Afghan sisters.” —Sabira

Please spread the word about the amazing work AWWP is doing  – bookmark it, tweet it, facebook it and mention it on your own blogs – let’s see what we can do to these brave women of Afghanistan who are using laptops, secreted USB sticks, and trusted male relatives to reach out to the rest of us.

Suzi

——————————————————————————————-

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)


Exploring books set in Afghanistan – World Party Reading Challenge

I am delighted to start our World Party Challenge with a trip to Afghanistan.

True, I have taken the easy option and decided to start with the very first country we have on our list at Packabook’s main site – but it is more than that.

When I think about the books that have truly moved me, there are two that immediately spring to mind – and both of those are set in Afghanistan.

My fascination with Afghanistan began, like many others, with Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. And the reason it hit me so hard was that in part of the book Hosseini described an Afghanistan I knew nothing about, that I had never seen on the news or in a movie. This was the Kabul of the 1970’s; a city with tree-lined streets, beautiful gardens and women wearing miniskirts. A city that was known as the Paris of Central Asia.

Listen to this wonderful BBC documentary on life in Kabul’s Golden Age

Why had I never known this? Because like so many others my view of Afghanistan was formed by what I saw on the evening news. If you had asked me to think of Afghanistan what would have come to mind was images of dusty roads, violence, poppy fields, Soviet tank graveyards and the heartbreaking television images of the magnificent Buddhas of Bamiyan being destroyed by the Taliban.

Watch this video from Al Jazeera English for a fascinating story on the destruction and rebuilding of the Buddhas.

What I certainly didn’t have was an image of trees in Kabul as Hosseini described. And when I read his words it reminded me of just how much power novels like this have. I could have read a hundred history books on Afghanistan, but nothing would have had the same impact as realizing that once there were trees – and then they were gone.  For me, it summed up so much of what has happened in that embattled country over the last 30 years.

By their nature epiphanies are pretty personal, but that was mine. And since then I have  just wanted to know more about Afghanistan.

I devoured The Bookseller of Kabul, Swallows of Kabul and The Wasted Vigil – all of which are excellent books in their own right. And then Hosseini released his much-awaited second novel A Thousand Splendid Suns.

If I thought The Kite Runner had been powerful, then this was even more so. Because this was about women. And this time it truly hit home.

Hosseini managed to make me understand what it is like to not have any control over your own life, simply because you are a woman. And even now, there’s many a time when I am complaining about the train not turning up on time, or battling the London weather to get to work, that I catch myself whinging. And then I remember Mariam in A Thousand Splendid Suns and I count my blessings.

This is the power of the novels we read.

I was going so use this Afghanistan launch post to tell you about Born Under a Million Shadows, my book of choice for this challenge. But the post has gone on long enough so it can wait for another day.

For now, I encourage you to pull out anything you already have on your shelves set in Afghanistan, have a read and share it with us. If you are looking for inspiration head over to Books Set in Afghanistan and you will find plenty there.

Then in the comments please let us know what you are reading and/or give us a link to your own post or review.

Many of us have governments who are making decisions which impact Afghanistan. I suspect it is a good idea that we read as much as we can about this troubled country, because what we see on our television screens is just a tiny fraction of the many stories to be told.

And apart from that, these novels are damn fine reads. Choose one now, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts…

UPDATE:  Read my review for Born Under A Million Shadows and find how you can help women in Afghanistan just by reading…

Suzi

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

Turkey
Greece
Iran
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)


Are you in Europe? You would be better off on our UK site - just click on the flag...

Let’s keep in touch…
Search
Search Form
So many books to read! So many places to go!
More good stuff at pinterest…
Follow Me on Pinterest
Last Minute Travel
Tags
Spread the word….
.
If you would like to spread the word about Packabook, please feel free to use the code below to add the Packabook Blog Button to your own site.
.
<center><a href="http://www.packabook.com/blog"><img src="http://packabook.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/packabook-blog-button.png"/></a></center>
.
Image courtesy of Joseph Robertson. Button design by Charlotte

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