Reading the world

Indonesia and Beauty is a Wound

“One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years.”

And thus begins Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound, set in the lovely Indonesia! (Are you intrigued yet? Because I sure was!)

This novel follows the life, and death, (and afterlife?) of the beloved prostitute Dewi Ayu and her children, beginning just before the dawn of World War II.

Dewi Ayu was the most dazzling, most highly prized prostitute in the (fictional) port city of Halimunda. She has three beautiful daughters…and one horribly ugly daughter, awkwardly named Beauty. Her beautiful daughters are all highly sought after by the men in town, of course, but Beauty’s ugliness scares everyone away (or literally makes them throw up). However, it’s not clear if her ugliness is a blessing or curse…

My Conclusion:

This is a very long book – almost 500 pages! – and there’s a LOT happening here! There are also a LOT of characters in it, but the cool part is that they all tie in together at the end. The book spans roughly 60 years, from late colonial Indonesia to the economic crisis of the 1990’s. A lot of the symbolism seems to derive from Indonesian ghost stories, which is cool and creepy all at once! (I totally got lost down a rabbit hole looking up some of the different ghosts that tie into this book lol).

I will say I was surprised at how political the book got at certain points, simply because I would not have expected that based on the opening lines. I really liked how Kurniawan interwove the ghost stories with the political aspects – that kept it from getting too preachy or boring, I think. That being said, since it’s such a long book, you’re going to have to be kind of committed to reading this one in order to really enjoy it. But if you’re ready for a long read, this is definitely recommended!

What have you read from Indonesia?

Malaysia and The Ghost Bride

Ghosts! Romance! Spirit worlds! And…surprise dragons!

Enter the world of The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo.




Li Lan is the only daughter of a once prominent merchant family living in 19th century Malaysia. Though her family used to be considered one of the elite, they have recently fallen into a state of decline. So when Li Lan’s father is asked if his daughter would like to be the ghost bride for a wealthy local family’s deceased son, it is a tempting – if terrible – offer to consider. Li Lan shuns the proposal, but then begins experiencing strange dreams about the would-be bridegroom. Terrified, she turns to a local spirit medium for answers – only to wish she had never done so.

Swept into the bizarre realm of ghosts and demons, Li Lan must journey through the mirror world of the dead if she wishes to free herself from her suitor’s hauntings. But in doing so, she may lose her life essence and become trapped forever…

My Conclusion:

this is a fun book! I learned a lot about Chinese/Malaysian death beliefs. The ending dragged on a bit, but overall I thought it was a good book!

What have you read from Malaysia?


Bosnia-Herzegovina How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone

Meet Aleksandar: a young boy living in what is now known as Bosnia-Herzegovina with his family. His young life is peaceful to start – but then war breaks out, and he is forced to flee with his family to Germany.

How the soldier repairs the gramophone by Saša Stanišic follows Aleksandar as he grows up with the knowledge of the war and devastating ethnic cleansing taking place around him. As he grows up safe in Germany, away from the war, he is left wondering what happened to those he left behind. In particular, a beautiful young Muslim girl named Asija…


Ghana and King Peggy

Imagine that, one night, you’re woken from a sound sleep by your phone ringing. You sleepily answer the phone, wanting to know what’s so important that they’re waking you up in the middle of the night. Then the person on the other end of the phone tells you congrats – you are now the king of a far off, distant land. And no, they’re not joking.

Sound like a fairy tale? Perhaps – but that’s exactly what happened to Peggielene Bartels one night after a long day of work as a UN secretary. Meet King Peggy!

After that jarring phone call, Peggy, an American citizen, flies to her old home in Ghana for her inauguration as the new King of Otuam, a small fishing village. Peggy had only ever visited relatives in Otuam, but was born and raised in the large city of Cape Coast, before immigrating to the United States. Peggy is determined to take her new role as King seriously – and won’t put up with any crap from the village elders.

I personally LOVE this book. Everything she does once she becomes king is basically what everyone says they would do if they were put in charge: stomp out corruption, stand up for the little guy, and work tirelessly to better the lives of everyone that depends on you. The world needs more Peggy Bartels. Otuam is a lucky, lucky village to be able to call her their King.

Canada and The Year of the Flood

The more distance I get from reading this book, the more real it seems. That’s frightening, guys.

From the US’s friendly neighbor up north, Canada and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood!

Set in the not-so-seemingly-distant future, this novel is set around a religious group known as God’s Gardeners. God’s Gardeners are like vegetarian hippies who don’t believe in mind-altering drugs, but they do believe in an unknown catastrophic event they call the Flood that will wipe out everyone on Earth – except for them, the believers, of course.

Which is a little weird, but they end up being kinda right.

The Flood arrives, and wipes out *almost* all life on Earth. A few people are accidentally left alive. The novel centers around two of these survivors: a woman named Ren, a one-time God’s Gardener now trapped in a sealed room in the sex club Scales and Tails; and Toby, a more hardcore God’s Gardener now trapped in a fancy schmancy day spa.

Will they reunite?!

This book is kind of like YA dystopia on drugs. And it’s awesome. But don’t call it scifi, because the author does NOT like that. Please read this book, and the rest in the series MaddAddam, and share them with your friends and bloggers!


What have you read from Canada? Or, alternatively, have you read any awesome dystopias (not necessarily scifi!) that you can’t wait to share?

Chile and The Private Lives of Trees

Chile! Possibly the thinnest country in the world. Due to that long, skinny shape, the country has an incredibly varied climate, going from super dry desert in the north to snow and lakes in the south. It is one of the most politically stable countries in South America.

My book for Chile is The private lives of trees by Alejandra Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell.

In this very short novel (98 pages!), we meet a young literature professor named Julian, who is telling his stepdaughter a bedtime story while they wait for his wife, her mother, to return home. The story he tells her is about the private lives of trees (hence the title).

As the night goes on, Julian becomes more and more nervous, as his wife is much later than usual, and he fears that something terrible has happened to her – perhaps a car accident? A robbery? Is she stranded on the highway somewhere? Has she run away and left him with her daughter to raise on his own?

I thought this was an interesting analysis of the insecurities that many people have regarding their relationships. What have you read from Chile?

Pakistan and I am Malala

Out of one of the most war-torn, unsafe countries on Earth, comes one of this generation’s greatest heroes: Malala Yousafzai.

You have probably heard about Malala as the teenage girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban, and lived to tell the tale. This is true! And what was she shot in the face for, exactly? Why, wanting to go to school, of course! Duh!

(Seriously, that’s all she wanted. The Taliban, who were basically running things in Pakistan at the time, didn’t want girls to go to school, because apparently they like their wives and daughters to be as equally stupid as they are.)

Malala and her family have since lived in England, as it is unsafe for them to return home. Malala makes it clear in her book, however, that she wants nothing more than to return home to her friends and old school, and continue life where she left off.

Here is a short list of Malala’s achievements so far in life:

Oh yes, and she wrote a book, I am Malala. You should go read it!

Mexico and One Out of Two

Over the first part of my Christmas break this year, I read Daniel Sada‘s One out of two:

This is the story of two identical twin sisters who decide to share a boyfriend – who, by the way, has no idea that there are two of them. The sisters look so much alike that no one can tell the difference between them. But what happens when the poor guy finally falls in love and proposes?


What have you read from Mexico?

Somalia and Secrets

It’s been a while since my last post, but I’m still here!

Today we have: Secrets by Nuruddin Farah!

OK, so spoiler alert, this was a WEIRD book. Within the first 100 pages we had bestiality, voyeurism, and under-age sex. And it got weirder from there. In fact, there’s quite a bit of sex in this book. And really, none of it is pleasant 0.o No Fifty Shades of Grey here!

The book follows a young man named Kalaman. He is being relentlessly pursued by a woman that he grew up with named Sholoongo, who has returned from America to inform him that she wants him to get her pregnant. Which is kind of an awkward statement to make, especially to someone whom you literally haven’t seen in years.

Kalaman refuses, but he can’t seem to get rid of Sholoongo, despite his best efforts. He turns to his grandfather for help, but as he journeys back to his home village, he begins to uncover secrets that his family has tried to keep hidden from him his entire life.

Kalaman’s mother, in particular, has kept many secrets from him. She is introduced to us as a cold, angry woman. At first glance, it seems like she can’t be happy with anyone or anything, but by the end of the book the reader as a COMPLETELY different perspective of her. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s quite artful the way Farah can make his readers completely change their minds about this character.

My favorite quote from the book is near the end: “Motherhood…is the off-and-on light in the darkness of night, a firefly in joyous dizziness and rejoicing, now here, now there, and everywhere.”

Doesn’t that make you want to go hug your mom? Ugh. Beautiful!

What have you read from Somalia?


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