So here we are again. January is over even though it feels like it has just begun. I read somewhere that as we grow older, it feels like the days go by faster because we notice fewer things each day because we have already experienced most of the day to day things and as long as nothing stands out, it all just flows by us. January has been one of those months that has just gone by without too much fuss. It has been the darkest month in more than 40 years in Denmark and so has been a tough month to get through – but even though it felt like we would never get through it, suddenly it is just all over.
For some reason January always feels like a good reading month for me. I think it’s because it feels wide open and full of possibilities and opportunities. I still have all year to complete my reading goals so I can read whatever I want. Still, it feels important which book is the first in the year and this year has definitely come off to a good start. I started off with The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb which was really good and which is responsible for introducing me to what will probably become a new favorite (fantasy) author. Fitz and the Fool and all the rest of her wonderful cast of characters will definitely stay with me and I can’t wait to not only go back into their world again but also meet up with them again.
I still have to post the review of the last book in the series but I will – and soon.
In addition to this trilogy, I read three other books this month. Two novels and a non-fiction. I really liked Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life. It seemed like a book that started as a writing exercise but where the author discovered that this exercise could be so much more than just an exercise and turned it into a really fascinating novel about determinism and how to live life right. Equally good but in quite a different way was Sonali Deraniyagala’s book Wave about her loss of her entire family to the 2005 tsunami. It was a heartbreaking book and her grief was palpable on every page. It was a difficult book to read but it was beautiful at the same time as it seemed that she used the book to keep her family alive.
Monica Ali’s untold story on the other hand didn’t quite work for me – in part because her portrayal of Princess Diana didn’t feel true to me.
So I ended up with having read six books this month and more than 3000 pages so I’m glad that I have been able to commit the time to these great books. Here’s a list of the books I did read this month and with links to the four reviews I got around to writing.
Notice something special about this list? Yeah, it’s all women writers. And not because of the #readwomen2014 because I only just read about that the other day. I decided to start the year with Robin Hobb’s fantasy series not because she’s a woman but because I was looking forward to reading it. While reading it, I read an article about a women who had read only women writers for an entire year and had concluded that it wasn’t enough to just read women writers but you had to choose good and different female authors too for it to really count. And I thought to myself that it could be fun to do a month of reading female authors only and so far, I’m enjoying myself a lot. So much so that I’m continuing this way of reading and that I’m going to write a blog post about reading only female authors.
So yay me for jumping on a band wagon I didn’t know existed… Funny how so often when you feel like you’re just a tiny bit original, everyone is doing the same thing.
‘How can I sleep? If I sleep now I will forget. I will forget what happened. I will wake believing everything is fine. I will reach for Steve. I will wait for my boys. Then I will remember. And that will be too awful. That I must not risk.’
Is life always worth living? At any cost? I don’t think so. I think there are times when people should be allowed to choose to end life. So if you loose your husband, your two young sons and your parents in one day – is life worth living then?
For Sonali Deraniyagala, this is exactly what happened to her in 2004 when she was vacationing in Sri Lanka with her family and visiting her parents. On December 26th 2004, the whole world learned what a tsunami is. I for one had never heard of it before and I think my own reference for it was the movie The Abyss. But some got a much more cruel lesson than others. Whole families were wiped out. And that’s almost more kind than being left behind, the only survivor.
Sonali is with her family in a hotel room, talking to a friend. Just after the friend has commented on how Sonali is living the dream, she looks out the window and notices that there’s something wrong with the ocean. And then they run. They run so fast that they don’t even stop to warn Sonali’s parents in the hotel room next door. And still – it’s too late. The last thing Sonali remembers is sitting in a jeep and seeing her husband more afraid than ever before, frightened by something behind her, something she can’t see.
The next thing she knows, is a certainty that she’s going to die. But miraculously she survives and is found by a couple of men who drives her to a hospital. And then the waiting begins. Eventually she learns that she has lost her entire family.
And then the struggle begins. At first, it’s more of a struggle to be allowed to kill herself than anything else as well as a fight between memory and grief. How much can you allow yourself to grieve without drowning in it? For a long while, Sonali tries not to think too much about her family because it hurts too much but slowly, slowly, she is ready to start remembering them again. It takes almost two years before she goes back to their home in London for the first time…
This was a hard book to read. It feels like Sonali wrote these things down to help herself, like it was never meant to be published and because of this, it becomes a very raw honest book about how you survive the unthinkable. This also means that it’s not a book that leave you feeling uplifted or impressed by the human spirit’s ability to survive. Yes she does survive but even eight years later, she’s still grieving and still trying to figure out how to live on without her family. Without Steve who seems to be just a perfect fit for her and without the two boys.
Ah, those two boys. It’s heartbreaking to think about these boys. Vikram and Malli. Seven and five years old. The boys come to life again in this book when she share special family moments, details things the boys have said or done and what their special interests was. This book really feels like her way of keeping her family alive – and it is so hard to read.
Her unflinching honesty means that she also shows the darker sides of herself – and of grief. Like how she doesn’t grieve her parents for a long time because of what she calls a pecking order to her grief. There’s simply a limit to how many she can grieve over at one time. Or how she’s not sure if a boy in an ambulance is her son or not. Or how she starts drinking and taking pills to cope. Or how for months she harass the family who buys her parents’ home because she wants it back. But it’s all very understandable. When you loose someone, the places you lived and spent time with them suddenly becomes important. And this is also a memoir about these places. The house in Colombo, Sri Lanka where she grew up. The house in London where she and Steve made a home for their boys. The things they did there, the way they lived there.
I’ve been asking myself why I wanted to read this book, why anyone would read a book about another person’s suffering, why a mother would read about another mother loosing her children. And I’m not sure I can answer it. When I heard of this book, I was immediately drawn to it and knew I wanted to read it. But why? I think my best answer is that when people have suffered so much, the least you can do is read about it. I’m not sure this reason is quite valid and I know I don’t always live by it but this – and the more standard reason that literature allows you to experience things which you (hopefully in this case) never experience yourself – is the best reason I can give right now.
So is it worth living after loosing your entire family? I think the answer for Sonali Deraniyagala is probably yes. Not because she’s over her grief, far from it, but because she is keeping her family somewhat alive by living. ‘They are my world. How do I make them dead?’
First line: I thought nothing of it at first. The ocean looked a little closer to our hotel than usual. That was all.
I didn’t read a lot of new books in 2013. Not at all. I did buy some but not as many as I had hoped. So to remember the books I really wanted in 2013 and inspired by Kerry at Entomology of a Bookworm, here are some of the books I wish I had bought and/or read.
Robert Calbraith: The Cuckoo’s Calling. This was of course one of the important books of the year. It was interesting to see how this book got good reviews but didn’t sell – until it was revealed that it was actually written by J.K. Rowling. And then it ended the year on several ‘Best of 2013’ lists. If someone can get me to read crime novels, I think it’s J.K. Rowling. I’m at least willing to give this one a try.
Dan Simmons: The Abominable. Ever since reading Drood, I’ve been wanting to read more by Dan Simmons. It’s about adventurers traveling to the summit of Mount Everest – or possibly running from something on Mount Everest. I’m sure it’s creepy!
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah. I loved Half of a Yellow Sun. Not just because of it’s compelling story, but because it taught me things I didn’t know. I think it will be the same with this one.
Joe Hill: NOS4A2. This book is an example of a book where the title alone sells it! And I’ve heard nothing but good about it so I need to get this one.
Hannah Kent: Burial Rites. This book about the last woman to be sentenced to death in Iceland, sounds amazing. It reminds me a bit about Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and I really want to read this one!
Eleanor Catton: The Luminaries. The 2013 Man Booker Prize winner. It sounds intriguing and fascinating but with the way it’s written, it also runs the risk of being a bit gimmicky – so far, the reviewers seem to agree that it’s absolutely amazing.
Cassandra Rose Clarke: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. Cat’s tutor is a robot who is perfectly happy to just teach her. But then the government grants rights to the robot population and suddenly, Finn has to find his own place in the world. Another great sounding novel!
Amish Tripathi: Immortals of Meluha (Shiva #1). This is the first book in the Shiva trilogy, a fantasy series about hindu gods. How cool does that sound?
Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Watcher in the Shadows. I really liked The Shadow of the Wind and this book about a mysterious toymaker who lives as a recluse in an old mansion surrounded by his magical beings sounds so amazing.
Ma Jian: The Dark Road. The tagline of this novel reads ‘If a panda gets pregnant, the entire nation celebrates. But if a woman gets pregnant she’s treated like a criminal. What kind of country is this?’, how can I resist that?
Matt Bell: In the House Upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods. A young couple is unable to have children so the husband takes it out on every animal living in the lake and the woods. The wife somehow learns to sing objects into being. It sounds like a fascinating book about what happens when you so badly want children but is unable to have them.
Stephen King: Joyland. King has two books coming out this year and this is the first one. It’s about amusement park serial killers and I don’t t need to say more because if you like King, you will get this!
Douglas Lain: Billy Moon: A transcendent Novel reimagining the Life of Christopher Robin Milne. This is one of the books I’m probably the most excited about. I think it’s some kind of twisted look at Christopher Milne’s childhood and on the Winnie the Pooh stories and I can’t wait!
Andrew Pyper: The Demonologist. This sounds like some kind of Da Vinci Codebook but taking Paradise Lost as it’s starting point. And that’s is it’s selling point to me.
Warren Ellis: Gun Machine. A detective finds an apartment filled with guns. Each gun leads to a different, previously unsolved murder. This book sounds just so cool.
Sonali Deraniyagala: Wave.This woman lost her husband and sons in the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. This is a book about grief. I am sure it will be almost unbearable to read but still, I want to.
Helen Wecker: The Golem and the Jinny. This seems to be a very interesting book which combine Jewish and Arab mythology. It’s about two supernatural creatures in New York – and of course they are drawn together.
It’s funny – some of these were on my list of books to watch out for in 2013 but for some reason or another, they have dropped completely from the radar – or at least from my radar. I heard a lot about the Warren Ellis book – but I don’t think I’ve read a single review… I know I’m not even close to listing all the books that I could be interested in reading but still, I think I will print this list and take it with me whenever I happen to be somewhere with a decent bookstore and hope to pick up some of these amazing sounding books!