A World Tour of Books: Aicha by Bene Batako (Togo)

“If you want to know what life is like in a small village in West Africa, read this book.”

These were the words of the nice middle-aged lady who sold me Aicha at the Gothenburg Book Fair. One of the main reason I started this World Tour of Books journey was to learn more about the world, so I bought the book and started reading it on the train back home.

Aicha
Aicha tells the story about the impossible love between Karim and Aicha. They were previously engaged but while Karim was away in the city to study, Aicha’s parents sold her to the wealthy merchant Aladji to be his fourth wife.

Karim is devastated to learn this upon his return. And the troubles have only just begun.

He starts to work as a school teacher in the village and soon one of his students falls ill with malaria. Karim wants to get him access to modern medicine but the boy’s parents only trust the traditional medicine of the local marabout (a kind of witch doctor). Will Karim be able to persuade them to take the child to a hospital before it is too late?

But not everything is going bad in the village. The winds of change begin to blow when Rachida, Aicha’s aunt, refuses to let her daughter undergo female circumcision/female genital mutilation. A great debate starts among the villagers and more and more women will realise the power of making their own decisions about their bodies and their lives.

Aicha is in many ways about the conflict between tradition and the individual’s longing for self-determination. But it’s also about the power of change and progress to free people’s minds and expand their horizons.

Aicha has only been published in Swedish and French but if you know any of these languages, consider giving this thought-provoking novel a read.

 

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A World Tour of Books: The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola (France)

For the country of France, the place where I spent most of my childhood, I wanted to read a book in its original language. French has a special poésie to it which simply can’t be translated. I once tried to read through an English version of one of Rimbaud’s poems and found it utterly depressing how the almost musical touch of the words got lost in translation.

I looked through my parents’ library is search of a French book I hadn’t read yet and found Le Ventre de Paris or The Belly of Paris as it is called in English.

Émile Zola being one of the greats of the genre of Naturalism, which I would like to describe as hardcore realism, I immediately became interested. The era of Naturalism is, in my opinion, one of the best periods in literature and its proponents’ determination to portray fearlessly the realities of life is a personal inspiration to me as a writer.

emil

The Belly of Paris tells the story of Florent, who returns to the French capital after years of exile in South America. Having been sent there after being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, he is full of resentment towards the Second Empire of Napoleon III.

He reconnects with his younger brother Quenu, who is now running a successful charcuterie alongside his beautiful wife Lisa.

Florent takes a job as an inspector in the now gone marketplace known as Les Halles. There he witnesses the affluence it brings to the city, but also the misery that exists within its walls. A distinction is made between the fat and the thin – the rich and the poor.

Although Florent lives with Quenu and Lisa, who are both unmistakably among the fat, he remains thin both in the physical and figurative sense. What he hungers for more than anything is justice and he begins to dream about a great revolution.

But while the thin might envy the fat, the fat are full of suspicion towards the poor. The idea that you should never trust a skinny man is expressed by several affluent characters throughout the book. And it is that very suspicion which will make sure Florent’s dreams remain only that.

The Naturalist beliefs of Zola are obvious in The Belly of Paris. Both in the milieus (I don’t think I’ve ever read such detailed descriptions of piles of vegetables or stinking fish) and in the dialogues. I sometimes caught myself feeling like I was reading the scenes of a documentary rather than of a novel. Although it felt a bit excessive sometimes, like when the narrator suddenly starts giving an incredibly thorough image of piles of cheese in the middle of one of the most suspenseful conversations of the story, but it does the trick. I feel quite confident that if I somehow could travel back in time to the Paris of the late nineteenth century, that I could find my way around Les Halles as if I had been there before.

The Belly of Paris is a great novel about a time and place which witnessed big changes in French society. If you are interested in history, or the Naturalist genre, this would be a good book for you.

 

Liebster Awards – Part 2

After giving it some thought, I have decided what blogs I am going to nominate for a Liebster Award. Here they are:

Caspian aka afab1996 writes about his experience as a transman in the UK. A very interesting blog, be sure to check it out.

The Foundry
Ruhen writes about writing and I find it fascinating.

I often find myself scratching my head, wondering how the hell people think. That’s not a good think to be so clueless about human psychology if you’re a writer. Luckily, Psychology for Writers is here to help!

Philosophy and Video Games. I stumbled upon this blog while looking through the Absurdism tag (Absurdism being one of my favourite philosophies) and discovered the fascinating subject of philosophical themes in video games.

DMY Inspires. Dmitry is a bisexual teenager with Aspergers and ADHD.

As a favourite blog, I would have to say it’s a shared win between Androgendernaut and Sebastian Lewis Pod.

To the nominated: you are hereby challenged to write a post nominating five other blogs with less than 200 followers, choose a favourite blog and if you wish you can also answer my ten questions.

What is your favourite dish?
What is a great documentary you think people should see?
Do you have a motto or favourite saying?
What day do you consider to have been the best in your life?
Why did you start your blog?
Who are the best: cats or dogs?
What is the best book you’ve ever read?
Tea or coffee?
What is, in your opinion, the best genre of music?
Do you have anyone you consider to be a role model? And if so, why?

Liebster Awards – Part 1

First, a big thank you to Androgendernaut for nominating me for a Liebster Award. I’m happy you like my blog.  🙂

I’m now supposed to nominate five other blogs with less than 200 followers as well as pick one favourite blog. I want to think through some more who I’m going to choose so in the meantime I’m writing this post to answer Androgendernaut’s ten questions.

 

– What inspired you to write?

I’ve been writing since I learned how to. In my case, it feels more like a need than anything else. If I don’t write, it feels like I’m going to explode.

Books, I started to write and share with others because I felt I was relatively good and it. Also: why not try to make a buck from doing something I was going to do anyway?

My blog was originally supposed to be an author blog but I’ve been writing a variety of posts not related to my writing, such as book reviews and opinion posts about the political climate in my country and the rest of the world.

– What keeps you writing and creating new content?

It’s a variety of things. Sometimes there’s an issue I feel I need to address. Other times I like to share things about my life to connect with people who might be going through something similar.

When I write about books, it’s simply because I’m so passionate about literature that I can’t keep it to myself. Especially when I come across a really good book.

– What keeps you motivated in your daily life?

Knowing that I’ll never reach my goals if I don’t at least try. That and caffeine.

– What life lessons have you learned that you´d like to share?

Kindness and compassion are not signs of weakness. Rather, they are qualities difficult to retain in a world filled with so much apathy and suffering. It takes strength to continue giving a crap.

– What is your favourite thing in the world?

Vegan ice cream, especially the kind made from cashew milk.

– What music do you use to write, if any?

I tried to write some music in my early teens but I just wasn’t that good at it. The best I did was write song lyrics, typical angsty teenage stuff about depression and unhappy love.

– What´s the most awesome book you ever read?

My favourite book: “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. Not because of the style of writing (Truman Capote said of Kerouac’s work: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”) Rather, it’s the spirit of the book. It’s that yearning for life, to embrace it fully and with your whole heart. To truly, madly grab it and howl at the moon when you feel like it.

“On the Road” is the first book that made me dream of freedom, of liberating myself from the shackles of my own mind. It’s one of few works I can say in all honesty changed my life.

– What other passions do you have besides writing?

Reading is my biggest passion besides writing. I’m always reading books and looking for new ones I haven’t read before.

Apart from reading, I’m obsessed with philosophy. After losing my faith in God, I started to question what the meaning of life is and if it even has any. And I wanted to learn about different ways to look at life and how to best live it. The two philosophies which have inspired me the most are existentialism and stoicism.

– What event has changed the way you view life?

When I was in my early twenties I got terrible chest pains. Turned out I had an inflammation in a muscle located close to the heart but I didn’t know that so I thought I was having a heart attack. I was afraid I might die and it got me questioning so much. I had had doubts about the faith I had been raised in for years but tried not to think about it. Being reminded of my own mortality got me questioning everything I’d ever known. It eventually led me to leave the Christian cult I had been raised in and finally becoming my own person. To this day, I consider that muscular inflammation to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.

– What are some changes you made in your life?

What I consider to be the biggest life changes I made are the following: leaving the cult I was raised in, starting my transition from female to male and getting proper medication for my ADD. The last one is a very controversial topic, although it shouldn’t be. For those of us with attention deficit problems, getting the right meds can be a total game-changer in the best sense of the word.