Best Summer Read 2009

Members of the Summer Reading Group 2009 reacted both positively and negatively to the selection of books this year, loving some of them and disliking others. They did notice some commonalities between the stories: writers or would-be writers, books and literature, and funnily enough… alcohol!

They voted “Broken Glass” by Alain Mabanckou the Best Summer Read 2009. This is the second novel to appear in English by the Congolese author Mabanckou, whose writing style is wonderfully original and is very well translated from French by Helen Stevenson. Lacking in punctuation and without full stops, readers were carried along by the energy and rhythm of the writing (‘this jumble of words is life’). They loved the ironic humour and wordplay. One reader had fun finding all the literary references scattered throughout the story. They found the characters very entertaining, though some scenes had readers’ stomachs turning! Overall, they felt that this was a brilliant book by a great writer.

Most readers enjoyed “The Mao Case” by Qiu Xiaolong, though they found the style of writing so completely different that it took a while to get into the story. They liked its historical aspect and how Xiaolong writes about the contemporary aspects of modern China. They warmed to the protagonist, Inspector Chen, with his unusual ways of investigating and his quoting of poetry, though some readers found the poetry overdone at times. They particulary liked the details about Mao’s reign as they felt that it demythologizes him. They appreciated the fact that the author dedicates the book to ‘the people who suffered under Mao’.

On the whole, readers did not like “Shadow” by Swedish author Karin Alvtegen. Most of them liked the beginning, but felt that it became contrived and deconstructed as the plot unfolded. They were unable to warm to the characters, who they described as being cold, indifferent, lacking in emotion and even detestable. One reader did warm to the story though, enjoying the insights into the darker side of fame and family dynamics.

Nicola has chosen “Havana Fever” by Cuban author Leonardo Padura as her Coup de Cœur Summer 2009. The group found it slow to get into, but once they did, they enjoyed the musings of the protagonist, Mario Conde, and the atmosphere that Padura creates with his detailed descriptions of the rare books, the food, the music, the people and the place. They felt the plot was secondary to the story of Havana today and in the 1950s. Nicola loved the slow rhythm of the writing and was captivated from the start by the multifaceted character of the Count. To sum up: ‘each book (…) has a word, a sentence, an idea that’s waiting for its reader’. How true!

Nicola’s Summer Reading list 2009

“Broken Glass” by Alain Mabanckou (Republic of Congo)
“Shadow” by Karin Alvtegen (Sweden)
“Havana Fever” by Leonardo Padura (Cuba)
“The Mao Case” by Qiu Xiaolong (China)

* Best Summer Read
In italics, Nicola’s Coup de Cœur

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