Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I’m Val, Emily (and Ruth’s) mum. I work paaaaaaaart time at London South Bank Uni and have a dozen other interests which revolve round grandsons, gardening, natural history and books. I’m a devout agnostic feminist sort-of socialist.
Best books so far this year:
1 By a mile, Rohinton Mistry, A fine Balance. Not for the fainthearted – it’s longer (and incomparably better) than A Suitable Boy and is an unflinching story of 1970s India under Indira Gandhi’s ‘Emergency’. It is emotionally gruelling at times; extremely funny; compellingly written; and the characters get under your skin and stay there. And much loved by an Indian friend of mine. I found it, unread, on Emily’s bookshelf.
2 Through the embers of chaos: Balkan Journeys, Dervla Murphy. Not the best of her many brilliant travel books but unmissable if you want to know what it is now like to live in the former Yugoslavia. She takes no sides (and no prisoners) in her descriptions of the roles of the various ethnic groups. She talks to and quotes all sorts of people to give an ultimately depressing account of the future of that troubled region. Now in her 70s, she has cycled or walked over most of the planet but her account of being stoned by several different groups of Albanian children is perhaps her most chilling experience. Probably a minority interest? I bought it because I read everything she writes.
Last year’s best
3 Barbara Kingsolver, Poisonwood Bible. Has much in common with A Fine Balance in the breadth of the story and the quality of the writing. She evokes 1960s Belgian Congo superbly; excellent characterisation; strong human story set within the political story; makes acute observations about fundamentalist patriarchal religion and neo-colonialism; very funny in some places but heart-stoppingly sad in others; the writing so good in places you want to stop and read it all again. I can’t remember why I first read it but reread last year for reading group and it was even better the second time.
4 The True History of the Kelly Gang, Peter Carey. Not on the face of it my sort of book but Carey is always good so I eventually chose this for our reading group. Carey succeeds brilliantly in what he sets out to do: he reclaims Kelly as the Thomas Jefferson of Australia (sure, I got that from a review but it’s true); says a lot about our need for myth making and does it all in a really enjoyable story of pioneer life down under.