The sheep had taught him something even more important: that there was a language in the world that everyone understood, a language the boy had used throughout the time he was trying to improve things at the shop. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired.
~ The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Sitting at the top of the slide, his five-year old body was slumped and his face was marked with a scowl that was almost impenetrable. I called his name several times but he didn’t budge. I asked what was wrong, but there was no answer. He pulled his knees up to support his chin, which supported his protruding, pouting lower lip.
Finally, not knowing if he understood my words, I substituted them with funny faces. It is my honest belief that almost any child can be redirected if I try hard enough. I did moose ears, the pucker-faced fish, but it was the blown-up monkey cheeks that did him in. His lower lip slightly retreated and he lifted his flip-flopped foot up to show me a small scrape on his ankle.
“Ouch,” I said. “Let me blow your boo boo a kiss.” I put my hand to my mouth and made a kissing noise as I pulled it away. He then followed suit and kissed his hand and put it on his ankle. Miraculously healed, he came down the slide and raced me to the merry-go-round, laughing as he ran. In that moment, I understood Paulo Coelho’s idea of the language of the world. This little boy from Malaysia could not understand my words, but in the end he understood my message.
For some reason I’ve been putting off making my European reading list. But last night I finally got my Global Reads by Region page up and running and I decided I need to get going with my European books as well.
In the past, I have read a number of books written by British authors. Jane Austen is my all time favorite. I read the Night Circus this year by Erin Morgenstern (I definitely recommend it if you are a reader that likes to imagine your books). Of course I’ve read all the Harry Potter novels (who hasn’t), the Lord of the Ring trilogy by Tolkein, and the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, as well as a number of historical fictions on the British monarchies by Philippa Gregory. With all that said, I’ve decided to avoid British writers. Perhaps I’ll give them a section of their own in the future. Instead I’m focusing on books I’ve heard set in Europe but that I’ve never read. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
In the Merde for Love by Stephen Clarke (2005), discovering the culture of the French is a specialty of Stephen Clarke. After reading a great blog post about A Year in the Merde, I scoped out the local library for a copy but instead found the second book in his series. Focused on love in FRANCE, this one is bound to have me laughing.
The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (1958), set in the 1860s ITALY, The Leopard tells the spellbinding story of a decadent, dying Sicilian aristocracy threatened by the approaching forces of democracy and revolution. I actually read this book in college in Italian but unfortunately it didn’t stick well. I thought I’d give it a try in English.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (1945), in a little town in SWEDEN the outrageous red-headed Pippi Longstocking brings adventure to her neighbors. When I was just 4 or 5 my parents took me to the play of Pippi Longstocking but I haven’t read or really heard of her since. This will be a lighthearted and easy read.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1873), a classic I’ve not read yet, Anna Karenina is one of the great novels of RUSSIA. The sensual, rebellious Anna renounces a respectable marriage for an affair that offers passion.
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis (1946), the tale of a young intellectual in GREECE who ventures to escape his bookish life with the aid of his boisterous friend, Alexis Zorba
Help me add to my list! Have you read any great books by European authors?
My favorite part of being home in Atlanta is spending time with our nephews and niece. We may be bias, but they are quite possibly the cutest kids ever and we love playing with them. The week has been filled with games, the pool and reading books. With my mom being a kindergarten teacher, reading and storytelling was a part of our daily routine growing up and she has definitely carried on the tradition with her grandkids. She has a pretty great children’s book collection and this year for her birthday we helped internationalize it a bit more. Both Mom and the kids have enjoyed these bite-sized global reads:
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf is an oldie by a goodie. Teaching kids about classic Spanish culture from the perspective of a peaceable bull, this is one you may see on may 1st grade reading lists.
Tickle Tut’s Toes by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo – a tangible way for a little one to experience ancient Egypt. My 2-year old niece loves it.
Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer and Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth are perfect for the 4-7 year old globe-trotter. With real pictures of Venice and good moral stories from Stillwater the panda, both will be enjoyed by kids and adults alike.
The Korean Cinderella by Shirley Climo is one of several cultural make-overs of the classic fairy tale. For your princess-loving kiddos, these are a great way into incorporate other cultures into their reading.
I finished off the gift with a little bit of creative wrapping by printing pictures or patterns that represented each country.
Rather than research and make my reading list for Latin America, I thought I would just ask for recommendations. What have you read set in Central or South America that you would read again? Post your recommendation and I’ll add it to the list.
I haven’t read many books set in Latin America, but here is what I’ve read or I’m currently reading:
Leaving Tabasco by Carmen Boullosa (currently reading while in Mexico)
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriela Garcia Marquez
Love in the Time of Colera by Gabriela Garcia Marquez
After finishing my first book (The Tapestries…really good, by the way) from my Asian list last night, I thought I needed to continue on with my book list and add books of African settings to my list. Thinking back, I can only think of one book I’ve read that took place in Africa: Monique and the Mango Rains. It just happens to be one of the best books I’ve ever read – I laughed, cried, and learned so much about Mali. Written by Kris Holloway, she recounts her Peace Corps experience in Mali working with a local midwife named Monique. I actually met Kris at a conference in February, but unfortunately my copy is in a storage unit in South Carolina so I couldn’t have her sign it (Boo!), but Kris was great!
In addition to Monique and the Mango Rains, here’s what I’ve found that I’ve added to my list:
Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah (2011) So this book doesn’t actually take place in Africa, but does depict the story of Elam, a boy from Ethiopia who becomes a refugee in London. Alone in a strange place, Elam has to deal with social services, the Refugee Council, and the transitions of a refugee completely by himself. With my hopes to volunteer with the refugee community in Oklahoma, I thought this would be a good one. (Available on Kindle for $3.32)
Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou and Helen Stevenson (2010) Centered in a run-down bar in the Congo, a bar regular nicknamed Broken Glass is chosen to record the stories of all patrons. However, everyone wants to rewrite history and buff up their stories along the way. According to the review, Broken Glass speaks regularly of the great books of Africa, which may just be beneficial as I add to my reading list. (Available on Kindle for $9.99)
The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah (2011) Set on the island of Mauritius in 1944, the novel tells of an unknown aspect of World War II through the journey of two young boys. Since I had no idea that WWII refugees went to Africa, nor exactly where Mauritius is located, I thought this might be beneficial for my African education. (Available on Kindle for $9.99)
The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz (2008) One of the most read Egyptian authors turns his writing to the stories of Ancient Egypt – love, war, and the pharaohs. With my love of Egyptian artifacts, I think I’ll definitely enjoy these three. (Available on Kindle as a bundle for $14.99)
I have a fascination with the Middle East. I’ve never been to an Arab country, but regardless, I find the culture incredibly intriguing and attempt to satisfy my interest through my book choices. In addition to Prisoner of Tehran, books with Middle Eastern influence that I have indulged in so far are some of the more popular:
Here’s what I’ve put on my Middle Eastern reading list:
In the Eye of the Sun by Ahdaf Soueif (2000) , the story of a young, Egyptian woman’s pursuit of her PhD in English literature and the relationship with her husband (Since I’m interested in getting my PhD, I thought I could relate.)
My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (2001), a crime novel set in the courts of the sultan in 16th century Istanbul (Nothing like a good mystery!)
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (1997), recounts and embellishes the Biblical story of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah (I’ve seen this book at Barnes and Nobel for years but just never bought it.)
Does my Head Look Big in This by Randa Abdel-Fattah (2007), a 16-year old girl embraces her faith by deciding to wear the hijab (Love the title and the modern-day perspective)
One Thousand and One Nights by Anonymous, a collection of Middle Eastern folktales (A classic that I’ve wanted to read for a long time…and it’s free on Kindle!)
Looking for more internationally themed books? Check out my Asian Inspired Reading List. (I’m reading The Tapestries now and it is excellent!)
For more recommendations for Middle Eastern reads, check out these sites:
I found a great new website this weekend through Stumble Upon called Which Book. You put in the type of book you want to read and the site spits out recommendations. It inspired me to start my future reading list and I’ve made up my mind to do it by region of the world. I’m starting with Asia; the books have to be set in Asia and preferably written by a person of Asian heritage. I hope to mix it up a bit with fiction and non-fiction. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
Sawako Ariyoshi, The Doctor’s Wife, (1978) the story of the wife of the first doctor to use anesthesia in Japan and her relationship with her mother-in-law (as a doctor’s wife, I thought I could relate to this one)
Pearl S. Buck, The Three Daughters of Liang (1969), the story of a woman in early Communist China and how she copes after her husband takes a concubine (I read Good Earth a few years ago and really enjoyed it so I thought I’d give Pearl Buck another try)
Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness (2009), the spiritual leader of Buddhism gives shares his wisdom on happiness (I just saw the Dalia Lama speak at SDSU a few weeks ago…amazing!)
Kien Nguyen, The Tapestries (2003), about a boy with royal Vietnamese blood sold into slavery at the turn of the twentieth century (this just looked good)
Mishima, Yukio, The Sounds of Waves (1994), a young fisherman is entranced at the sight of the beautiful daughter of the wealthiest man in the village (I needed a good love story in the mix)
Fan Wu, February Flowers (2007), a girl goes off to college and becomes a woman in 1990s China (as a Study Abroad Advisor, I thought this sounded pretty interesting)
In addition to these, I have a few books of Asian influence that I’ve already read and would definitely recommend:
This past November, I turned 30. I believe 30 is this magical number in the U.S. that everyone starts having children or everyone starts asking if you’re going to have children. Some people ask point blank, some are a little more covert, and then there is my mother.
Last night she called to update me on some family news and somehow or another the conversation turned to her future grandchildren. My mom knows me well; she knows that we do want to have kids someday and she is awesome about not pressuring us. So instead of asking about our family plans, she just states what she’s going to do when our little one finally comes around. She LOVES her grandkids and enjoys daydreaming about having more. And since my niece and nephew are the cutest kids ever, I really can’t blame her.
But our conversation last night ended up turning to children sleeping through the night and whether you pick them up or let them cry. I found the dialog especially interesting because currently I am reading Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman. I’m not very far along yet, but even in the first chapter Druckerman makes some good contrasts between the American family chaos to the more serene French family. Druckerman noticed the difference first while at a restaurant in France where she observed the local children eating adult food, sitting in their chairs, and playing quietly. How many times have you been to an American restaurant only to see parents chasing their children around because they refuse to stay at the table? A lot, right? If most French children sleep through the night at 3 months, eat broccoli without being threatened, and rarely (if ever) throw a tantrum, then perhaps Druckerman is right and there is something to be learned from our Francophone friends.
A few weeks ago I went to Kobey’s Swap Meet here in San Diego. (For my Southern readers, swap meet = flea market.) Kobey’s is a cultural experience in itself. Walking up and down the table-laden aisles, I heard Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin spoken by both the buyers and the sellers. That’s just proof that all nationalities like a good deal! For the most part, I go to Kobey’s to browse through junk and buy books at a $1 a piece. On my last visit, I got 6 for $5 and was thrilled. While not all of my book purchases were worthy of the $1 price tag, Prisoner of Tehran, A Memoir by Marina Nemat was worth $5 on its own.
Although born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Marina Nemat was not the typical Iranian child. Her father a dance instructor, her family of Russian decent, and herself a devout Christian, Marina’s way of life contradicted everything that was associated with the Islamic Revolution of 1979. But it was when she demands to be taught calculus, rather than Islamic political propaganda that she was marked as an enemy of the Iranian government and imprisoned at the age of 16 in Evin, an infamous political prison outside of Tehran. In Prisoner of Tehran, Nemat details her life in prison as well as her childhood leading up to that ominous day.
My interest in the experiences of Middle Eastern women has significantly increased over the past month. Between reading My Embassy Letters and watching Salaam Dunk and Beauty Academy of Kabul, I have learned pieces of the current situation in the Middle East but have lacked awareness of the historical background. Prisoner of Tehran provides significant insight into the timeline of women’s rights in Iran and helped my fill in some of my historical holes. Not only did Prison of Tehran inform me, but it was also well-written, honest, and redemptive. Nemat has excellent flow and I was able to finish the whole book in 4 days.
If you are looking for a good read that will challenge and enlighten you, I would highly recommend Prisoner of Tehran.