I have seen bloggers posting their monthly wrap-ups and have decided to follow suit (I do not guarantee it will be my usual blog feature, though). In terms of books read, I had a busy month (I want to believe since I read twelve books) and tried to read widely, an effort which resulted in me reading a Russian classic, a Canadian detective thriller, a Polish mystery, a romantic fantasy, a short story and three non-fiction books, among other genres. Here is my summary:
- Doctor Zhivago  by Boris Pasternak – ★★★★★
I want to start with this book because although I read it I did not review it as a separate post largely because I read it in my native language Russian and I often want to focus on the language in my reviews. This is a Russian saga which really deserves its name of a classic story because of its power, vividness and relatability. It takes place before the WWI and during the Russian Civil War of 1917-1922, starting from the characters’ childhood to their later years. Surprising and passionate love starts to blossom between Doctor Zhivago and a nurse Lara and there are turbulent times historically (wars, revolution) and for them personally (marriage connections, children). Full of romantic suspense, this touching story is not only about Zhivago and Lara, and a number of characters are introduced to show the fates of different people and uncontrollable nature of their lives.
- The World That Made New Orleans  by Ned Sublette – ★★★★★
Ned Sublette wrote a rather original book on the history of New Orleans, touching on such diverse topics as the impact of the different colonisation regimes on the area, the influence of African music and the rise and endurance of other cultural idiosyncrasies, including the practice of Voodoo. The result is that the book is both a delightful and informative read.
- Killers of the Flower Moon  by David Grann – ★★★★★
This is a non-fiction book which I read but not reviewed as a separate post. This book is by the author behind fascinating The Lost City of Z . The story here is so shocking and the investigation so fascinating that no words can really do justice to describe them in a short paragraph. A number of wealthy-through-oil-discovery Osage Indians begin to die in mysterious circumstances leading to outside and independent detective units infiltrating a small town in Oklahoma to assess what is going on. Focusing on individual stories, this is really a tale of a conspiracy, corruption and cover-up on a major scale like no one probably read before. Grann conducted an admirable investigatory work himself, putting at the centre one man and unsung hero – Tom White, who was in charge of the later investigation to secure seemingly impossible-to-achieve justice for the marginalised people.
- Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead [2009/18] by Olga Tokarczuk – ★★★★1/2
Olga Tokarczuk weaved a tale which is dark, original, philosophical, psychological, detective and simply unputdownable. Here, Janina Duszejko, an elderly woman, has to confront a series of murders in her Polish neighbourhood. Janina’s narrative voice and Theories grow increasingly accusatory, making us question the nature of truth, neighbouring relations and politics, and animal freedoms and rights.
- Moth Smoke  by Mohsin Hamid – ★★★★1/2
This is my March contribution to The Year of the Asian Reading Challenge. This book is by the author behind The Reluctant Fundamentalist , and it is nothing less than an impressive debut. Set in Pakistan and detailing one hedonistic life-style gone wrong, Hamid focuses in his book on a number of issues, including the nature of morality and culpability.
- The People in the Trees  by Hanya Yanagihara – ★★★★1/2
Hanya Yanagihara’s debut is a marvel. For the most part, it reads like an anthropological travelogue, but there are also pseudo-scientific-fantastical elements there and some eerie and disturbing implications for the readers to draw on their own.
- Reality Is Not What it Seems [2014/16] by Carlo Rovelli – ★★★★
Starting from Ancient Greece knowledge and Schools of Ancient Atomism and ending with modern discoveries of quantum fields and spacetime, Rovelli sets out the history of atom/quantum discoveries, telling us what experiments revolutionised the way we look at everything around us, including space and time. The author provides a good summary of knowledge-gathering in physics through history, and explains difficult concepts in simple terms, as well as the relational nature of reality (one chapter is titled “Time Does Not Exist”). The book was interesting, but I also found the translation from Italian a bit too odd (maybe too faithful), most of the theories described not as ground-breaking and some pop-culture references, such as Blade Runner, too on the nose (see this Youtube video that explains some of the concepts mentioned in this book better).
- White Chrysanthemum  by Mary Lynn Bracht – ★★★★
This is a well-written and emotional debut novel detailing a story of a pair of Korean sisters Hana and Emi in the 1940s when Hana got captured and forced to work as a “comfort woman” for Japanese soldiers. Usually, I am ok reading about really traumatic events, for example, as part of true crime, but I just found the story here too harrowing and depressing. All the sexual abuse, rape and trauma is set out in a miniature detail in this book, and if half of the chapters are taken by Hana’s horrifying story, another half is about Emi coming to terms and learning to heal in 2011 after suffering a similar fate decades before. One fascinating aspect here is that women in Hana’s family traditionally worked as haenyeo, Korean female divers known for their strength, determination and independence.
- The Beautiful Mystery  by Louise Penny – ★★★★
This was a good detective story by Canadian author Louise Penny. The atmosphere in this story is particularly compelling as Inspector Gamache descends on a mysterious monastery in northern Quebec to investigate an equally mysterious murder of one of the monks. Religious music plays a special role in this story.
- The Yellow Wallpaper  by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – ★★★★
Part horror, part mental illness case study and part feminist account, The Yellow Wallpaper details one woman’s slide into madness as she gets fixated on a yellow wall-paper in one of the rooms in a newly-rented cottage house. The story may not end satisfactorily, but it is still very eerie in its originality and inexplicability.
- Tangerine  by Christine Mangan – ★★★★
I liked this psychological thriller set in an exotic location, even though its similarities with The Talented Mr Ripley  also left me uneasy.
- The Night Circus  by Erin Morgenstern – ★★★1/2
This is probably one of the most atmospheric books I have ever read, and it is very interesting to read about all the magic in this story. What disappointed me, however, is the lack of a satisfactory plot progression or drama. I also found the story’s main romantic relationship odd and unsympathetic.
Have you read any of the books listed? How was your reading month? Are there any books you particularly enjoyed in March or looking forward to reading in April?