March 2019 Wrap-Up

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 [1957] 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. 

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 [2017] 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 [2009]. 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. 

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 [2000] 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 [2007], 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. 

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 [2018] 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.  

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.  

This classic story review was my start with the Colour Coded Reading Challenge. 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 [2018] by Christine Mangan★★★★

I liked this psychological thriller set in an exotic location, even though its similarities with The Talented Mr Ripley [1955] also left me uneasy. 

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.

Meanwhile, I have also been indulging in opera, allegorical art and Agatha Christie.

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?  

14 thoughts on “March 2019 Wrap-Up

  1. I was not as much a fan as I wanted to be of Killers of The Flower Moon. I found it too clinical too matter of fact, although the actual story was riveting. I have downloaded White Chrysanthemum from audible and am anxious to read that one after finishing The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. I own The Night Circus and have since it was published so I need to get to that one eventually. I would say I discovered the author Tim Johnston and his book The Current and Descent. Love everything about those two books. Here’s to a great April of reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting to hear your opinion on Killers of the Flower Moon. I found it in a style of investigative journalism, which is supposed to be relatively objective, but I also appreciated the author’s focus on individual members of the family, and I really got the vibe that he cares about what he writes and about the Osage Indians, so I ended up feeling the emotion in the story.

      I have heard of The Island of Sea Women, and I also would like to read it. White Chrysanthemum was a hard read for me. Some people on goodreads say that “it wasn’t an easy read” for them, but I would say it was really distressing. I mean, what kind of material an author would talk about which would be more traumatic and shocking than that? Possibly, only some Nazi torture experiments would be more shocking. I am pleased I read this undoubtedly important (even if fictional) account, but some part of me also secretly wishes I never even attempted this book because it may give me nightmares now.

      Tim Johnston thrillers sound like my cup of tea, too. I will surely check them out, thanks a lot for sharing your March discoveries!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Louise Penny wrote too many good detective thrillers and I feel I will never catch up! The first, the 10th, the penultimate and the final book are already in my TBR list, and I will now add A Great Reckoning, thanks for the thumbs up!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m with you on The Night Circus, the descriptions of the circus were gorgeous and I loved being there, the story lacked interest for me beyond that, plot holes and a dull romance.

    Liked by 1 person

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