Malawi and The Boy who Harnessed the Wind

Just in time for Thanksgiving, I give you…a book about a famine! You know, just to make you feel a little extra thankful this year.

Meet William Kamkwamba , probably one of the coolest people you’ll ever hear about. In his book The boy who harnessed the wind, he talks about growing up in Malawi during a famine and building a windmill to bring electricity to his family’s rural home at the age of 14 (14, you guys).

This is an awesome book for anyone interested in science, or ingenuity, or just a feel-good (true) story of someone overcoming (a lot) of difficult circumstances.

So basically, our young hero is just a kid, the son of a farming family, who enjoys going to school and hanging out with friends. Then suddenly, a famine strikes. His descriptions of the famine are pretty terrifying, guys. He talks about watching his friends and family slowly shrivel up into skeletons, then watching their limbs swell from starvation. His sisters get into fistfights at dinner because there’s not enough food, and people wandered the countryside looking for day work for food.

His family barely survives – but they survive. Their relief can be summed up by the family’s gratitude at the next harvest:

But then, there’s only enough money left to feed the family and buy more seed for next year – and not enough to send William back to school. So what does he do? He goes to the library! Duh!

So he goes the library, finds a few books on sciencey things, and gets an idea to build himself a windmill so that his family’s house can have electricity. AND IT WORKS. He builds a windmill, which manages to generate enough electricity to power a few lightbulbs around their house, which is enough that his family can stay up late and work on other projects – like reading or sewing. Keep in mind – he was 14 years old when he built a working windmill that generated enough electricity to power his house. 14.

Eventually, William gets discovered by TEDGlobal, and the rest is history. You can follow his other adventures on his blog.

What have you read from Malawi?


Jamaica and The Book of Night Women

Just in time for Hurricane Matthews, here’s a book from Jamaica!

(Seriously though, please be safe if you’re in the path of the hurricane. It looks NASTY.

The book of night women by Marlon James (who won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for his other book, A brief history of seven killings).

And no, “night women” is not in reference to prostitutes.

This book is set in Jamaica (obviously) in the 1800’s, when slavery was still legal. It follows the young slave girl Lilith as she grows up on a plantation with hundreds of other slaves. She is gifted with a “dark power” that makes all the other slaves afraid of her, which means not only is she a slave, but she can’t even make friends among her fellow slaves. Eventually, however, she is taken into confidence by a group of slave women who call themselves the Night Women – because they can only meet secretly at night – who are plotting a slave revolt, and need Lilith’s help to pull it off.

But DOES she end up helping?


I’ll let you guys find out on your own! This was a long book, but a really good one.

I will say that it did take a few pages to get into, simply because it’s written entirely in a Jamaican accent. As in, “Who you be, mon?” It took me a while, but then once I was finally used to it, I didn’t even notice it. But then all of a sudden a white person in the book would start talking, and I would have to totally re-read everything they said because it sounded so weird all of a sudden in my head! It was weird, but in a cool way. I mean, not many authors could pull off writing something so well that you hear EVERYTHING in your head like that.

What have you read from Jamaica?

Picture This: Reflecting Diversity in Children’s Book Publishing —

At the 2016 ALA Annual Conference, author Tameka Fryer Brown presented the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s (CCBC) multicultural publishing statistics during the panel “Celebrating Diversity: The Brown Bookshelf Salutes Great Books for Kids.” She displayed Tina Kügler’s oft-cited 2012 infographic, with the comment that even though the numbers are now 4 years old, the image […]

via Picture This: Reflecting Diversity in Children’s Book Publishing —

Iraq and The Iraqi Nights

Hello Iraq! Your poetry is beautiful, fyi. In case you didn’t already know 5d460ed78992a28f0ea9d7a6b7841f91

For Iraq, I read The Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail (translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid).

And guys. It was awesome.

This was a very slim volume – only 83 pages – so it was a pretty quick read. Glossing over the fact that the cover is GORGEOUS, Mikhail’s poetry is quietly powerful. There are several poems that are accompanied by her handwritten Arabic version of the poem, like this one:


A lot of her poetry centers on the goddess Ishtar, the ancient Sumerian goddess of sex and war – which of course just makes everything more interesting.



I thought I would pick a favorite poem from this book and share it on this post, but I couldn’t decide which one to pick! So I’ll just leave you with Mikhail’s ending lines:

“You open your arms
and I know just how much I love you:
I love you from here to Baghdad;
I love you more than all the words;
I love you higher
than the smoke in the city;
I love you louder than the explosions;
I love you deeper than the wounds,
Iraqi and American,
from an IED,
I love you sweeter than a lily
unfolding in the morning;
I love you warmer than a nest
that lacks only birdsong
and a single piece of straw;
I love you wider than the fear
coming and going
from here to Baghdad
I love you.”

Larsa, The Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail

Japan and The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea

Meet The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima!

So, basically, you have this group of Lost Boys-ish kids who run around and cause havoc in 1960’s Japan.


One of these boys has a single mom, who meets a sailor. The boys all think this sailor is Badass, because sailors get to travel all over the world and are free from being tied down. So they REALLY like this sailor. But then the sailor decided to retire from sailing and get married to this kid’s mom, and that pisses. Them. Off.


This is a slightly older novel, but it’s by one of Japan’s most well-known authors. Seriously, Mishima led kind of a crazy life. He died by committing seppuku, which is when you gut yourself with your sword and then have a friend cut off your head.


So yeah. Interesting guy.

What have you read from Japan?

Cuba and Cuban Layered Coffee

Cuba and coffee – they kind of go hand in hand, you know? So what better treat to serve myself for finishing my book for Cuba, The Motorcycle Diaries, than some delicious Cuban layered coffee?

All you need is sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, whole milk, and some sweet, sweet espresso.

On a side note, this is NOT a good recipe to try if you’re lactose intolerant 0.o


Seriously though, go try this coffee!

Peru and Death in the Andes

For Peru, we have:Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa!

This is definitely a book that I’d describe as a classic. It draws on a lot of classic, ancient Greek mythology – specifically, the god of wine Dionysus and the cults that surrounded him, and the sun god Apollo. Which kind of makes it sound less South American, and more Greek or European…until you hear about the pishtacos.


Ahem. I give you, the pishtacos of Peru! They’re like vampires, except instead of drinking human blood, they drink human fat. Yummy!

Anyway, this book is half-mystery, half classical discussion on life versus death, party versus responsibility, with a good dose of political commentary on the state of Peru from 1980-2000 while it fought a deadly guerrilla war thrown in for funsies.

This book has LAYERS!


What have you read from Peru?

Bangladesh and The Good Muslim

So, again, this was definitely a book that I chose because the title grabbed me by the metaphoric balls. The good Muslim? Did they mean “good” in quotes? If so, why? Was this a book preaching that all Muslims are bad? Because I wasn’t sure I wanted to read that book 😦 I had to know what was going on!

And thus: to Bangladesh, and The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam:

This book touches on several big subjects: rape, abortion, religious fanaticism, political freedom, and the struggle to adjust that too many soldiers have when the return home. It’s actually the second in a series, and someday I will read the rest of the series…when I have time… *sighs wistfully*

wistful sigh

So, the first thing you should know is that Bangladesh, like so many other places in the world, has pretty much been ripped apart by war. The main part of this story takes place after the Bangladesh Liberation War that won Bangladesh it’s independence from Pakistan…but also devastated the country in many, many ways. The story focuses on a young doctor, Maya, and her relationship with her brother, Sohail, who fought as a soldier during the war. Sohail has never been the same since the war, and now spends his time as a deeply dedicated Muslim holy man.

What struck me the most about this novel were the similarities between super strict Muslims and super strict Christians. Like, at one point Maya is trying to convince Sohail to let his son go to school. The kid is more than old enough to have learned how to read and write by now, but instead he barely knows how to spell out his own name, and Sohail refuses to send him to school because “he can learn at home.” Ugh! It just reminds me of those hardcore Evangelical Christian parents who home school their kids and then their kids go off to college or to get a job and they’re like “Wtf. I know nothing.” Because parents are NOT better than teachers at teaching! What are you so afraid of your child learning – that you don’t know everything?! Or that there are other ideas out there besides yours?! Grrrrr. End rant.

The book isn’t really talking about the violent kind of fanaticism – more like the very, very frustrating kind. Not the scary, violent kind. Although it comes close sometimes, I admit. For example, at one point Sohail burns all of his books, because they’re “too worldly.” As a librarian, that scares the shit out of me – and it should scare the shit out of you, too! Book burning will lead you nowhere good, guys! Some very famous bad people have burned books! Famous good people do not burn books!

The ending is what really got me, though. There may or may not have been tears. Anam really does a good job of bringing several different characters and events together to form a satisfying ending.

What you have read from Bangladesh?

The Democratic Republic of Congo and Tram 83

So, if I had to sum up the Democratic Republic of Congo in one word, it would be Conflict.

Before reading this book, I would highly encourage you to read this brief timeline of the country. It still make you much less confused as you read the book, trust me.

So: the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila!

To give you an idea of how good this book is, it has already been longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize for 2016, and was the winner of the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Literature.

This is a super dark novel that, despite its depressing atmosphere, overflows with life – albeit sometimes with forceful desperation. For example, underage prostitutes, dubbed “baby chicks,” are quite common in the novel, as prostitution is often the only way these girls can hope to survive. Despite their dour circumstances, these girls continue to push onward with life; to survive, even through means that most would find degrading and unthinkable.

The novel centers around a nightclub called “Tram 83,” where people from all walks of life can be found: musicians, drug dealers, prostitutes/waitresses, soldiers, miners, businessmen, students, etc. It is here that most of the action takes place, centered around two characters: Lucien, an unemployed historian, and Requiem, whose exact business is unclear, but it is definitely shady. Although Lucien and Requiem are old friends, their differing interests cause conflict between them, which continues to grow as the novel goes on.

When I think of the sheer struggle for survival that everyone in this book faces, I think of stories of lone travelers, injured but still alive, miles from civilization, who somehow still find the will to claw hand-over-hand to find help.

Something kind of like this:


I think ^that about sums it up. Definitely something that I will re-read at some point!

Are there any books that you have read that remind you of a similar struggle for survival? Let me know in the comments!

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