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Welcome to readtheworld, a book challenge which aims to read books from as many countries as possible in one year.

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Feel free to introduce yourself. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask!

And most importantly, happy reading! The 23rd April, the journey starts!

2010-11 Challenge Complete

Thought I'd post my final book count for the challenge. I completed it as an "Impressive World-Traveller"! I had wanted to complete it as a "Backpacker", but alas, it didn't end up working out that way. I set out on this challenge with an overly ambitious game plan, which got sidelined after I started college (I didn't complete as much of Europe, Asia, The Middle East, or Oceania than I originally planned to), but I'm terribly proud of doing as well as I did (especially since I was doing another challenge which entailed reading a book set in each of the United States). I'll probably attempt to finish what I didn't complete this year.

My JourneyCollapse )

The Final Total: 126 countries traveled, 45 books read

2010-11 Challenge Complete!

Today I completed my literary travels as a Curious Tourist! In the past year, I have read 18 books from 19 different countries, with at least 2 books for each (populated) continent.

Here's what I read...Collapse )

And here's where I went:
Make yours @ BigHugeLabs.com

My favorite book for this challenge was probably M. M. Kaye's Death in Berlin, although Sándor Márai's Embers ran a very close second!  Mackenzie Ford's The Clouds Beneath the Sun and Robin Adair's Death and the Running Patterer were the biggest disappointments. Pramoedya Ananta Toer's The Mute's Soliloquy was the book that most thoroughly immersed me in another country.

I enjoyed this challenge a lot, and it has definitely broadened my literary horizons. Still, the vast majority of the books I read were set in European countries, which means I have a lot of room for improvement!

Is anyone else done, or almost done, with their goal for this year? What are your favorite and least favorite books so far?
The Laughing PolicemanBook #18: Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Laughing Policeman (trans. Alan Blair)
Country: Sweden

This Swedish mystery chronicles the investigation of a mass murder: nine people have been gunned down in a public bus, and the Stockholm police must now find the person responsible. When the police begin to identify the victims, they are shocked to discover one of their own: Åke Stenström, an ambitious young detective on the force. At first, Åke’s presence on the bus is their only clue to the investigation – what was he doing there, and could the murder have been targeting him? The police pursue their investigation slowly and methodically, following up even the vaguest information that could lead them to a solution. The clues seem to lead nowhere at first, but eventually all the pieces begin to fall into place.

This is my first foray into police procedurals, and I was a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Being used to cozies, where the detective himself is an important character in the story, I was taken aback to find that this book focuses equally on four or five different policemen. Another striking difference is that in cozies, the detective simply talks to the suspects and solves the crime in his head; by contrast, in this novel the police have to do a lot of running around after evidence. The slow tedium of a police investigation is described very well, and I enjoyed reading about the interactions among the various policemen. The novel is also quite funny in places, despite the overall grim subject matter. The only thing I didn’t like was the lack of character development; very few of the policemen seem to have clear personalities. However, this book is part of series, so perhaps some of these men are recurring characters who are fleshed out more in other novels. Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book to mystery fans.
The Mute's SoliloquyBook #17: Pramoedya Ananta Toer, The Mute's Soliloquy (trans. Willem Samuels)
Country: Indonesia

This volume is the largely unstructured memoir of Pramoedya Ananta Toer, an Indonesian writer who became a political prisoner on Buru Island in the mid-1960s. Most of this book was written in prison, and it is essentially a compilation of diverse writings composed at different times. Toer writes about his experiences in prison, as well as the fates of some of his fellow prisoners; he also writes about his own life and the evolution of his political ideas. Most of all, he writes about Indonesia, both as an ideal to strive for and as a country he loves despite its shortcomings.

This book was required reading for a class that I’m taking. As a memoir, it’s not great; there’s no real structure to it, and many sections are quite digressive and too long. Parts of it are interesting, but other sections are very dull. However, it was an extremely interesting book to me because of what I was able to learn about Indonesia, a country I about which I knew basically nothing. It was fascinating to become immersed in another culture and another way of thinking about the world. I also think that this book is universally important because it gives a voice to the political prisoners who suffered and died on Buru Island. The most important and moving part of book is the last chapter, the “Table of the Dead and the Missing,” which catalogs (as thoroughly as was possible at the time) Toer’s fellow prisoners who died or vanished from Buru. For that chapter alone, I’m glad that I read this book.


Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman

Death and the Maiden: Tie-In Edition (Plays, Penguin)Book #16: Ariel Dorfman, Death and the Maiden
Country: Chile

This play is set during a very specific time: Chile has just rid itself of Pinochet as dictator (though he is still powerful in the government) and is transitioning to a democracy. The new government has created a commission to investigate the human rights violations that occurred under the previous regime; its goal is to record the stories of the victims, but it does not plan to punish the oppressors. In the midst of this context are three characters: Gerardo, a recently appointed member of the commission; Paulina, his wife; and Roberto, a seemingly random stranger who helps Gerardo fix a flat tire. However, when Paulina meets Roberto, she immediately recognizes him as one of the men who raped and tortured her while she was a political prisoner 15 years ago. The ensuing events pose difficult questions about the nature of truth and justice.

This is a very short work with a very big impact. It definitely kept me riveted and anxious to find out what would happen next. There are many significant questions raised, and in the end almost none of them are answered. Yet, in my opinion, these ambiguities are what make the play so powerful. The three characters are very intriguing and complex, and it seems that none of them can be taken at their face value. I would strongly recommend this play; while it is a very quick read, it is also extremely intense and thought-provoking.
Death and the Running Patterer: A Curious Murder Mystery (Curious Murder Mysteries)Book #15: Robin Adair, Death and the Running Patterer
Country: Australia

In the rough-and-tumble world of Sydney, Australia in 1828, nearly everyone has something to hide. Criminals from Great Britain are routinely shipped to the penal colony of New South Wales, and the city is full of ne’er-do-wells hoping to leave their pasts behind and create new lives for themselves. When a series of grisly murders disrupts the town, the governor of the colony involves the police, but he also enlists the help of Nicodemus Dunne. A convict himself, Dunne is permitted to live and work in the colony until his sentence expires; he makes a living as a “running patterer,” crying the news to interested patrons throughout Sydney. Dunne uses his far-reaching connections – from respectable tradesmen to unsavory convicts – to assist him in solving the crimes.

I picked up this novel because of the unique setting; colonial Australia seemed like the perfect setting for a historical mystery. Adair was obviously diligent in his research about the time period; the book is full of interesting historical tidbits and descriptions of real landmarks in Sydney. However, this strength of the book is also its main weakness: too much time is given to random factual digressions at the expense of the plot. The historical information is too obtrusive, and it’s often irrelevant to the main story. I also had some trouble following the plot and keeping track of all the characters. Even after the Big Reveal, several events and character motivations didn’t make sense to me. Finally, I was not impressed by the clumsy writing style; the attempts to be funny were painfully awkward instead. Ultimately, while the concept of this book was promising, its execution left me very underwhelmed.
Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black: And Other StoriesBook #14: Nadine Gordimer, "Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black" and Other Stories
Country: South Africa (author)

Since it’s hard to summarize a short-story collection, here are my thoughts on the individual stories in this book:
  • ”Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black”: A white professor living in South Africa searches for hypothetical black relatives who might be descended from his great-grandfather. It’s an interesting take on racial consciousness in modern society.
  • ”Tape Measure”: Essentially, this story is a day in the life of a tape worm. It must be a metaphor – something about the nature of social parasites – but I’ll admit to being dense. It was a cute conceit, but ultimately the story did nothing for me.
  • ”Dreaming of the Dead”: In a dream sequence, the narrator has dinner in a Chinese restaurant with Edward Said, Anthony Sampson, and Susan Sontag. I think I’d have gotten much more out of this story if I had grown up knowing who all the characters were; as it is, most of the references went over my head.
  • ”A Frivolous Woman”: This story centers around Grete, an old woman who lives in the world of nightclubs and parties despite surviving personal tragedies during World War II. This was one of the most emotionally affecting stories in the collection.
  • ”Gregor”: The narrator notices a small roach trapped in the glass panel of her typewriter; she makes the obvious Kafka comparison. A funny little story that I didn’t quite see the point of.
  • ”Safety Procedures”: A man sits next to a strange woman on a plane and wonders about her. Meanwhile, the plane runs into a storm and has to make an emergency landing. I liked the twist at the end of this story.
  • ”Mother Tongue”: A man and a woman meet and fall in love in Germany, the woman’s country. When they marry, they move to the man’s country of South Africa. I liked this story, especially how it turns romantic expectations upside-down.
  • ”Allesverloren”: A woman whose husband has recently died searches for the one person who can understand her grief – the husband’s former male lover. I could relate to the depiction of grief in this story.
  • ”History”: The resident parrot at an old French restaurant becomes a symbol of the mutability of life when the restaurant closes. This was not one of my favorites; there’s just not much to it.
  • ”A Beneficiary”: A young woman, looking through her dead mother’s things, discovers evidence that her father might not be her father. The emotional climax to this story is very understated, which I liked.
  • ”Alternative Endings: The First Sense”: A Ph.D. and his wife immigrate to South Africa from Hungary. The woman soon fits into her new life and becomes successful, while the man is unable to assimilate to the unfamiliar culture. This is a sad story, and I thought the ending lacked subtlety.
  • ”Alternative Endings: The Second Sense”: A woman’s marriage is strained by her husband’s demanding career as a concert cellist. I loved the descriptions of music in this story, but once again I think the ending was delivered a bit too forcefully.
  • ”Alternative Endings: The Third Sense”: A woman suspects that her husband is having an affair, but financial troubles prevent her from speaking up. This was my least favorite of the “alternative endings,” but oddly enough it has the best ending.
Overall, while I respect Gordimer’s writing style, few of the stories really grabbed me. It might be worth getting this book from the library, though.

Death in Berlin by M. M. Kaye

Death in BerlinBook #13: M. M. Kaye, Death in Berlin
Country: Germany

When beautiful Miranda Brand accompanies her cousin and his wife to Berlin, she thinks it will be nothing more than a pleasant vacation; she is curious to see the German city that has recently been partitioned in the wake of World War II. Her trip takes a nasty turn, however, when an elderly Brigadier whom she met on the train is murdered en route to Berlin. The Brigadier had just told a fantastic story involving Nazi runaways and an enormous quantity of stolen diamonds – a substantial motive for murder – and anyone at the dining car could have overheard him, which makes Miranda and all her traveling companions suspects. Softspoken policeman Simon Lang is investigating the Brigadier’s death, and he seems to be particularly suspicious of Miranda. Can she clear her name and find the real killer before more people are murdered?

I very much enjoyed this mystery, which should appeal to fans of Agatha Christie. The characters are charming in that 1950s way, and it was fascinating to get a glimpse of Berlin between World War II and the construction of the Berlin Wall. I hadn’t ever imagined what Berlin would have looked like, or been like to visit, at that time; but M. M. Kaye actually was there in the early ‘50s, so I’m confident that her portrayal is accurate. The mystery plot has several good twists and turns, and a high body count keeps things interesting. There’s also a nice and subtle little romance. Overall, I really liked this book and can’t wait to read more of M. M. Kaye’s mysteries!

Mod Post

Hi there.

I am very sorry for completely neglecting this community and challenge. Lack of time put me behind and then I lost interest in everything. I'm not really sure how to put things back and make things fun and active again. I know that there are several active members and I still want this challenge to be fun for you.

I was thinking thus if anyone else here would like to take over and help out? :) As it is right now, I really don't have time to participate or manage this right now but I don't want to close and end this or make it abandoned so, if anyone is interested, please do tell me :)

Once again, I am very sorry :(


new member

Username/Name: fleaux
Location (country): United States
Favourite books? A handful of poetry collections; AVA by Carole Maso; At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom by Amy Hempel
Favourite type of genre? 1) Poetry. Tied for 2nd) Novels & short stories.
Any specific countries or books that you are very interested in? No, I'll read anything
How many countries are you aiming at? 18 (The Curious Tourist)
Anything else? This is a great idea and I wish I had found it earlier! I doubt that I will be able to complete the challenge by April, but hopefully I'll discover some good books along the way.