Hey lovelies – Hope you’re all safe and well and tugged in at home all the time. It’s really hard days and I hope and pray that we get better soon. Today I have Author Jo Jackson on my blog as she talks about “Books from different countries” where she recommends books that are set in various parts of the world!
“Travelling books” by Jo Jackson
I have a notebook in which I record the books I have read with some brief thoughts about each one. Reading it over is like taking a trip around the world and it brings back memories of some of the wonderful countries I been fortunate enough to visit.
Travelling is something I love and the more remote, the more unusual and the greater the difference in culture the happier I am. Where possible I like to try and read books set in those countries whilst I am visiting them. That way the sense of place becomes real.
Today I am going to share a few of those books with you. For me the most difficult part was making the selection and not becoming too distracted by the memories my list evoked.
Let me take you first to the continent of Africa with its rich and colourful heritage, it’s smiling, generous people and the amazing differences between its individual countries.
My special moment
Visiting Ben Abeba, a restaurant that has to have one of the best 360 degree views in the world. It was a project that was the inspiration of a Scottish woman called Susan with the iconic building being designed by a young Ethiopian architect. There I had the privilege to talk to the young people who were being trained in aspects of hospitality, to cook, to wait at table, to manage and consequently to gain employment and support their families. Set up for the sole purpose of offering hope to students leaving education most of whom lived in isolated outlying villages and for years have walked miles to school every day. They were bright and burning with ambition. They made my visit unforgettable.
Book: Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste is set in 1974 during and after the reign of Haile Selassie. It tells the story of a doctor and his family caught up in their countries revolution. It tells how conflict turns politicians against people, children against parents. This book explores the meaning of freedom and its fragility. It’s not an easy read but the beauty of its language keeps one absorbed. It’s written by an author who remembers. She was a child at the time of the oppression.
Other great reads from Ethiopia:
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
The Life of my Choice by Wilfred Thesiger (Non-Fiction)
Walking across a bridge over the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia we paused to watch white water rafters practising capsizing before setting off on their wild adventure. Beside us a Zambian woman in colourful local dress also stopped to look. Her incredulous gasps and excited yelps had us laughing with her. She shook her head and pointed, ‘They pay for that?’. We took her across to the opposite side to where bungee jumpers were leaping off. She held onto me as one plummeted downwards and she issued forth a frantic garbled prayer with a ‘Thank the lord, they came back up’, repeated over and over, tears of happiness moistening her eyes. A wonderful lady.
Book: The Dust Diaries by Owen Sheers. I loved this book. The writer is also a poet evident in his choice of words and the composition of his prose. He tells the extraordinary story of a distant uncle who went to Rhodesia as it was in 1901 as an independent missionary and devoted himself to the country and its people. This is the author’s moving testimony to his uncle and his own journey of discovery as he travelled the same country nearly a century later.
Other great reads from Zimbabwe:
Twenty chickens for a Saddle by Robyn Scott
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
The Africa House by Christina Lamb
My special moment
In 1983 and with mixed feelings my husband and 3 children were leaving Egypt where we had lived for two years. At the Egyptian-Israeli border it was too late to import our car and we are told we must leave it there and travel 70 km to the nearest hotel. Wearily we hailed a taxi driver. He would transport us but offered instead to take us to his home on the Gaza strip which is much closer. We can stay at his house and he will bring us back to the border the next morning. At his simple home, built around a courtyard, his extended family turn out with smiling faces to welcome us. Tea and cakes revive us. He and his wife give up their room and beds are brought in for our children. Later he and his brother take us to a village café for a meal but won’t let us pay. The next morning, his little girl in her best dress poses with us and the rest of her family for treasured photographs. Generosity and genuine kindness forever remembered by us. We have watched the destruction of Palestine with dismay and hope that special family survived.
Book: I saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti A young man leaves home for university not knowing that years must pass before he will be able to return. This is a beautifully written book with eloquent, poetic prose describing the author’s displacement. It is a window on history told not with hatred but with poignancy. It left me feeling sad, but full of admiration for people who live in perpetual conflict.
Other great reads from Palestine:
Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
Meet me in Gaza by Louisa B. Waugh (True short stories)
My special moment:
Taking a walk before breakfast through a park in Guillin we were greeted by a young man who asked for nothing other than to spend a few minutes talking English to us. He told us about his rural upbringing and his determination to make a success of himself. We asked him if he had learned his English at school. But he said, no, that his family were very poor, and his education had been patchy, but as he tended the family land he had listened to English language tapes and everything he had learned had come from them. He was currently working in a Chinese hotel, but his ambition was to study international hospitality. He thanked us for the chance to speak English. It was us that was privileged to meet someone with such singular motivation and determination. I hope he has succeeded.
Book: Lilla’s Feast by Frances Osborne. It begins in China’s Treaty ports and tells the remarkable life story of the author’s great- grandmother who lived through the momentous historical events of the 20th century. Lilla survived incredible cruelty and starvation in the Japanese internment camps by writing a recipe book! This is a story that has stayed with me.
Other great reads from China:
20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo
Red Dust by Ma Jian
My list could go on, to Egypt, India, Ireland, Holland, to the USA and many more places, I hope you have enjoyed this short trip to some of the countries I have visited and the books that have meant something to me.
Thanks JO! I am partly amazed and partly jealous of the countries you’ve travelled and all the diverse experiences you’ve gained! Isn’t that what life is about? This is such a well-written piece by the author and I thank her for all the time she invested in writing it for syllablesofswathi.com.
Meet the Author
Jo Jackson is the author of two books, both written since she retired. Having worked with some of the most vulnerable people in society she has a unique voice apparent in her second novel Beyond the Margin, set in Ireland.
She was a nurse, midwife and family psychotherapist and now lives in rural Shropshire with her husband. She loves travelling and walking as well as gardening, philosophy and art. Her first novel Too Loud a Silence is set in Egypt where Jo lived for a few years with her
husband and three children. Events there were the inspiration for her book which she describes as ‘a story she had to write’ You can read more about her on her website
Her Book: Beyond The Margins
Is living on the edge of society a choice? Or is choice a luxury of the fortunate?
Joe, fighting drug addiction, runs until the sea halts his progress. His is a faltering search for meaningful relationships.
‘Let luck be a friend,’ Nuala is told but it had never felt that way. Abandoned at five years old, survival means learning not to care. Her only hope is to take control of her own destiny.
The intertwining of their lives makes a compelling story of darkness and light, trauma, loss
and second chances.