The Week in Books #64

4/12 ✅

Another week, another week in books post. So far this year I’m at 25 books of my goal of 52 books. I think I need to bump it up to more than one book a week haha. I got through three books by authors from three different nations; Pakistan, India and China.

1. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. This is an interesting little novel about the immigrant experience. There’s a touch of magic realism in the “doors” that transport people to other countries, though no explanation for the phenomenon is offered by the author, they just are. The story follows the relationship between Nadia and Saeed as they escape from the war in their unnamed country and struggle to survive in other various cities around the world. I liked it, but felt it could have been more, ya know? I saw that the Obamas are making it into a movie though which is exciting! (Article here)

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

Penguin Randomhouse

2. Seven by Farzana Doctor. I’m not sure why this book isn’t getting more attention. It currently has just 333 ratings on goodreads, but with a score of 4.24 which is pretty high! More people need to check this one out. It’s a fictional account of FGM (female genital mutilation) also known as khatna practiced by the Bohra community in India. The idea of girls aged seven being subjected to genital cutting against their will is gross, and the idea of family members taking girls for the procedure against the will of their parents is even more disturbing. Having a daughter of my own now I know that if this happened to us there would be some serious hell to pay. Very worthwhile read!!

When Sharifa accompanies her husband on a marriage-saving trip to India in 2016, she thinks that she’s going to research her great-great-grandfather, a wealthy business leader and philanthropist. What captures her imagination is not his rags-to-riches story, but the mystery of his four wives, missing from the family lore. She ends up excavating much more than she had imagined.

Sharifa’s trip coincides with a time of unrest within her insular and conservative religious community, and there is no escaping its politics. A group of feminists is speaking out against khatna, an age-old ritual they insist is female genital cutting. Sharifa’s two favourite cousins are on opposite sides of the debate and she seeks a middle ground. As the issue heats up, Sharifa discovers an unexpected truth and is forced to take a position.

Dundurn Press

3. Waiting by Ha Jin. This novel is about waiting, literally. Lin is in a loveless arranged marriage that he wishes to end so he can marry Manna, a nurse he loves, but the government will not approve a divorce for him and his wife despite being separated for seventeen years. Rules at the army hospital where they work together dictate that pairs of opposite gender individuals can not walk together outside the compound so Lin and Manna are forced to stay apart until he can obtain his divorce. They wait a long time. Very beautiful prose, especially impressive from someone with English as a second language. Jin grew up in Communist China and following the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 emigrated to the USA and chose to write only in English going forward. He has won many awards for his poetry and other works and I’m interested to check them out.

In Waiting, Ha Jin portrays the life of Lin Kong, a dedicated doctor torn by his love for two women: one who belongs to the New China of the Cultural Revolution, the other to the ancient traditions of his family’s village. Ha Jin profoundly understands the conflict between the individual and society, between the timeless universality of the human heart and constantly shifting politics of the moment. With wisdom, restraint, and empathy for all his characters, he vividly reveals the complexities and subtleties of a world and a people we desperately need to know.

Judges’ Citation, National Book Award

Hey, I noticed a funny thing this week, with Exit West I’ve officially read over 1000 books! Go me! This is a fairly accurate number as I have added every single book I remember reading to my goodreads account (apart from comics, unless collected into a large volume, and children’s books) and hitting this milestone has been a goal of mine for a while. It took 30-some years to get here, I wonder how long until I hit 2000.

Happy reading!

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