In our second ‘Bookshelfie’, we are delighted to feature book recommendations from current parent and alumna, Mrs Alexandra Slater.
Thinking about my ‘top’ books, I realize they map closely to the different countries I’ve lived in. After I left Calne in 1991, I studied history at Durham University and reading about past lives of people in new places continues to be my way into appreciating a new country. Here are my international themed ‘top’ reads.
Ethiopia – A Wife’s Tale: A Personal History by Aida Edemariam is the biography of the author’s grandmother. It tells the story of her life in Ethiopia during the 20th Century and bears witness to the tumultuous changes during that period. She is married aged 8 and a mother in her teens. She lives through war, revolution and famine. The book is structured into the thirteen months of the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar. Hers is an extraordinary life, lived in a unique country.
Japan – The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. I loved Cloud Atlas and Mitchell’s writing. This book is supremely well researched and I found the detail of ancient Japan and intricacies of the plot engrossing. There’s a wonderful chapter where he describes a flock of birds moving across the town: it’s a poem in its own right with a swooping rhythm. I thought the book was captivating.
The Netherlands – The Coffee Trader by David Liss is set in Amsterdam in 1659. It describes the world’s first commodity exchange and tells a suspenseful story that offers an insight into how religious and cultural traditions influenced the development of trading with the New World. I thought Deborah Moggach’s Tulip Fever was also wonderful.
Romania – Burying the Typewriter: A Memoir by Carmen Bugan is a childhood memoir of political oppression and persecution during Romania’s Ceausescu years. I also learnt a huge amount from The Last Romantic: A Biography of Queen Marie of Roumania by Hannah Pakula. Along the Enchanted Way by William Blacker vividly describes life in rural Transylvania.
Hong Kong – Fragrant Harbour by John Lancaster spans seven decades beginning in 1935 and follows the interwoven lives of several characters. I found it vibrant and evocative. Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood by Martin Booth was immersive and portrayed the disconnect between expat/local that I recognized from my own experience. I also enjoyed Ibis Trilogy by Amitav Ghosh (three books) set in India and China in mid 19th Century when Britain was exploiting the opium trade.