Books: PIGEON ENGLISH by Stephen Kelman

Title: Pigeon English
Author: Stephen Kelman
Published: 2011
Genre: Fiction

This was a humorous and easy read. Stephen Kelman’s debut novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker for 2011 – a feat that even he was surprised by . It tells the story of eleven year old Ghanaian immigrant Harry Opoku who lives in inner-city London, in an area riddled by gang war and violence. Following the fatal stabbing of a fellow schoolmate by gang members in his neighbourhood, Harry, together with his best friend go about trying to solve the murder. Although told from Harry’s eleven year old perspective, the sense of danger is nuanced but effectively done.

Books: THE FINKLER QUESTION by Howard Jacobson

Title: The Finkler Question
Author: Howard Jacobson
Published: 2010
Genre: Fiction

I am always reluctant to write about award-winning books. I always want to read them because the writer in me wants to know what it is that makes an award-winning book, but in the same breath I approach them cautiously because the hype can often lead to a disappointing experience. I did not pick up The Finkler Question for its rave reviews, so my expectations were somewhat managed.
I read this  Booker Prize winner a few months back, and have been struggling to sit and write up on it for a while now. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would I recommend it? Yes, but a with one caveat: be very patient with the protagonist.

Books: HOW TO READ THE AIR by Dinaw Mengestu

Title: How To Read the Air
Author: Dinaw Mengestu
Published: 2010
Genre: Fiction

I am drawn to immigrant stories. There is something in them that speaks of strength and survival in countries foreign that I can relate to. How To Read The Air offers glimpses of Jonas Woldemariam’s parents’ transition into America from their home country, Ethiopia. The story itself does not focus entirely on the problems they encounter in America, but of how they have to forge a life as immigrants, who hardly know each other, and build a life from their little-shared past.

Books: THE MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Eugenides

Title: The Marriage Plot
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Published: 2011
Genre: Fiction

The Virgin Suicides, Eugenides’ first book and Middlesex, his second, were both mysterious. The Virgin Suicides in its depiction of a family of three daughters growing up under the severely strict parenting of a Catholic domineering father- who all ultimately commit suicide left me with an unanswered. Why? A great review of the Virgin Suicides here. Middlesex was fairly straightforward, as the historical elements of the novel woven around the history of a Greek family leaving Greece, settling in the US and the discovery of the daughter that she is a hermaphrodite. This in itself a mysterious subject. I dare say this is my very abridged version of a book that won Jeffrey Eugenides the Pullitzer Prize for Fiction.

Books: THE THING AROUND YOUR NECK by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Title: The Thing Around Your Neck
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published: 2009
Genre: Fiction

I read this book in two days…I do enjoy short stories at times, it makes the progress faster and there is always the next story to look forward to if you are not particularly engrossed by one story. I first read Purple Hibiscus three years ago and fell in love with Adichie’s writing. The Thing Around Your Neck is a collection of stories previously published in various publications. It tells of immigrant Nigerians, professionals, students, wives carving their way in the land of opportunity, America.

Books: THE TIGER’S WIFE by Téa Obreht

Title: The Tiger’s Wife
Author: Téa Obreht
Published: 2011
Genre: Fiction

In the Tiger’s Wife, Téa Obreht retells the story of a tiger that escapes from a zoo during the Balkans war. Told through the protagonist, Natalia the story is both allegorical and entertaining enough. The sudden and strange circumstances surrounding the news of her grandfather’s death, a medical doctor like herself, leave Natalia following the path her grandfather may have taken in the latter days of his life as a way to try and uncover answers to the mystery around his death.

Books: LYRICS ALLEY by Leila Aboulela

Title: Lyrics Alley
Author: Leila Aboulela
Published: 2011
Genre: Fiction

I am going to come across sounding unimaginative I know, but Lyrics Alley is lyrical. A slow-paced introduction to the extended dynastic Abuzeid family leads one to identifying with the characters almost immediately. Slow-paced as the introduction is, the turn of events as the plot gives way is anything but. Lyrics Alley reads both like historical fiction – which it is not, and a dramatic work of fiction you want to sink your teeth into.
The plot centres around Mahmoud Abuzeid, a Sudanese whose life is a mélange of cultures, traditional Sudanese and modern Egyptian. Torn between the two worlds, he remains unavoidably and staunchly tied to his origins and his family in Sudan yet socially ambitious and yearning for acceptance in his new world. It is a story of families, love and heartbreak.

Books: SHANGHAI TANGO by Jin Xing

Title: Shanghai Tango

Author: Jin Xing

Published: 2005

Genre: Memoir

This was a quick read in between the flurry of activity typical of this time of the year. Wishing I had an e-reader given all the books I want to read this Summer…Shanghai Tango is the memoir of a prima ballerina; Jin Xing who danced for the Shanghai Ballet and other prestigious Ballet Companies both in the US and Europe. It is a story told from a very detached voice about a young boy, who is recruited into the People’s Liberation Army Dance Corps as a soldier and a dancer at the age of nine. He becomes a celebrated, internationally-acclaimed dancer who goes on to become the first person in China to undergo a full sex-change operation. 



Title: The Madonna of Excelsior

Author: Zakes Mda

Published: 2002

Genre: Fiction

I read this again right after I finished Chicago, and had just started on The Immigrant by Manju Kapur –  which I have yet to finish. I often find myself in a reading rut where I tend to read books with similar themes and in the same genre at intervals that are too close together. After Chicago, The Immigrant started off feeling similar, which is the reason I have put it down for  a while.

Books: CHICAGO by Alaa Al Aswany

Title: Chicago

Author: Alaa Al Aswany

Published: 2008

Genre: Fiction

In the aftermath of the recent uprisings in the Arab world, this was an informative read. One of the members of my Book Club made a comment recently about Egypt that I found to be accurate- especially regarding the World’s perception of the Arab states that have just experienced the ‘Arab Spring’. 

“I feel like we have been lied to.” She was referring to Egypt and I could not have agreed more. No, I do not  live under a rock, and yes,  I was aware of the fragility of Egypt’s democracy before the uprisings, but in relation to seemingly more despotic states, Egypt was at the periphery of wider political discussion. Or so I thought until the uprisings and subsequent resignation of Hosni Mubarak in February.