The four shortlisted books for this year’s Summer Reading Group all had very different writing styles and, as a result, our summer readers were divided over them! So it was no surprise that, when it came time for voting for Best Summer Read 2012, two books tied for first place: “Open City” and “Please Look After Mother”
“Open City” by Teju Cole (Nigeria) is a first novel set in New York and Brussels. The narrator, Julius, is a young doctor who likes to go on evening walks around the city where he meets a host of characters. It is a meditative novel, not plot based. Readers found the story well structured with a lot of interesting information, both historical and political, throughout. They particularly enjoyed the passages set in Brussels! Some readers found the wandering around the cities tedious, although they did agree that it was well written.
“Please Look After Mother” by Kyung-Sook Shin (S. Korea) is the story of a mother who goes missing in Seoul and whose husband and children reflect back on her life as they are searching for her. There are four narrators: daughter, son, husband and mother. Some readers did not like the numerous voices, which they felt resulted in jagged characters. Others enjoyed having the different points of view. Readers found the story heart rending and it made them pause to think about their own relationship with their parents.
“Day of the Oprichnik” by Vladimir Sorokin (Russia) is a futuristic novel set in Moscow in 2028 where torture, rape, pillage and executions are all part of the daily routine of the oprichniks. It is narrated by one of them over the course of one day. Readers found the writing style good, but difficult to follow at times. They described the story as a surprising page-turner, and were both horrified by the violent scenes as well as amused by some crazy scenes. They said it felt like following a dark person in a dark world!
Nicola has chosen the novel “Irma Voth” by Miriam Toews (Canada) as her Coup de Cœur Summer 2012. Set in Mexico in a Mennonite community, the story is narrated by 19-year-old Irma who not only gets married, but also takes a job with a film crew, against her father’s wishes. Readers liked the book a lot and found it the easiest of the four to read. Told in an unusual and simplistic style, they found the descriptions clear and they warmed quickly to the characters. Nicola feels this line from the book sums up its theme: ‘to truly know happiness is to know the fleeting nature of everything, joy, pain, safety and happiness itself.’
Nicola’s Summer Reading list 2012
“Open City” by Teju Cole (Nigeria) * – DRAW!
“Please Look After Mother” by Kyung-Sook Shin (South Korea) *
“Day of the Oprichnik” by Vladimir Sorokin (Russia)
“Irma Voth” by Miriam Toews (Canada)
* Best Summer Reads
In italics, Nicola’s Coup de Cœur