Six Degrees of Separation Beginning with Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet is the starting place for January’s Six Degrees of Separation. Because it is about the loss and sorrow caused by a plague, it made me think of Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks.

Geraldine Brooks wrote this book, but also March, a book I quite disliked for its portrayal of Mr. March as a less than honorable man. In thinking of male characters that I do admire, I think of John Galt in Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand has written the book I want to read for the #1936Club, We The Living. Because Ayn writes of a time in post revolutionary Russia, another book I plan to read with the same setting is One Night In Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

Because of the horrors of life in Russia, (which make me somewhat fearful of occurring in America: Loss of freedom of speech? Loss of ability to worship? Loss of personal weapons?) I am reminded of the Nobel Prize winning book, Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich.

Another Nobel prize winning book is The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. Even though he is British, he was born in Nagasaki, Japan, which brings me to Japanese literature.

Of all the Japanese literature I have read, and plan to continue reading, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami holds a special place in my heart. For it, like Hamnet, contains a mother/son relationship.

This is the first time I have participated in this meme, and it was quite a pleasant task to think of books I love and their connection. Might I add that Hamnet is a most worthy starting point? It was one of my favorite reads of 2020.

Books Read In 2020

Books Read in 2020:

~January~

  1. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
  2. The Library Book by Susan Orlean
  3. The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda, translated from the Japanese by Alison Watts (Japanese Literature Challenge 13)
  4. On The Bus in the Rain by Haruka Kimura (JLC13)
  5. The Dancing Girl of Izu by Yasunari Kawabata (JLC13/Deal Me In Challenge)
  6. The Drifting Classroom by Kazuo Umezz (JLC13)
  7. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (JLC13)
  8. Malice by Keigo Higashino (JLC13)
  9. Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham (Edgar Award nomination for Best Novel)

~February~

  1. The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths (Edgar Award nomination for Best Novel)
  2. Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland (Edgar Award nomination for Best Novel)
  3. The River by Peter Heller (Edgar Award nomination for Best Novel)
  4. Real Life by Adeline Dieudonné (translated from the French by Roland Glasser)
  5. Mr. Miller by Charles Den Tex (translated from the Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier, for Boekenweek 2020)
  6. The Dutch Maiden by Marente de Moor (translated from the Dutch by David Doherty, for Boekenweek 2020)

~March~

  1. The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japanese Literature Challenge 13, read-along)
  2. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder, Booker International Prize 2020 long list)
  3. The Enlightenment of The Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar (translated from the Persian by an anonymous translator, Booker International Prize 2020 long list)
  4. Faces on The Tip of My Tongue by Emmanuelle Pagano (translated from the French by Sophie Lewis and Jennifer Higgins, Booker International Prize 2020 long list)
  5. Red Dog by Willem Anker (translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns, Booker International Prize 2020 long list)
  6. Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann (translated from the German by Ross Benjamin, Booker International Prize 2020 long list)
  7. Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin (translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, Booker International Prize 2020 long list)
  8. Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes, Booker International Prize 2020 long list)
  9. The Other Name by Jon Fosse (translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls, Booker International Prize 2020 long list)
  10. The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezon Camara (translated from the Spanish by Fiona Mackintosh and Iona Macintyre, Booker International Prize 2020 long list)
  11. The Forest of Wood and Steel by Natsu Miyashita, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel

April-

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (free Audible book during Corona Virus, listened to while sewing face masks)
  2. Malicroix by Henri Bosco (translated from the French by Joyce Zonana, read along for nyrb)
  3. Backlight by Kanji Hanawa (Red Circle Mini Book, Japanese)
  4. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerarld (#1920 Club)
  5. The Force by Don Winslow
  6. The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow
  7. The Cartel by Don Winslow

~May~

  1. The Border by Don Winslow
  2. Broken by Don Winslow
  3. The Book of V. by Anna Solomon
  4. Redhead by The Side of the Road by Anne Tyler
  5. The New Husband by D. J. Palmer
  6. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Nobel Prize winner)

~June~

  1. Satori by Don Winslow
  2. Savages by Don Winslow
  3. Safe by S. K. Barnett
  4. The Gentleman’s Hour by Don Winslow
  5. Weather by Jenny Offill
  6. Shadow Garden by Alexandra Burt
  7. A Man by Keiichiro Hirano (Japanese)

~July~

  1. The Vacation by Logan
  2. The Cave by Jose Saramago (translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jill Costa)
  3. The Cathedral by The Sea by Ildefonso Falcones (Spanish Lit Month) Half-read
  4. The Death and Life of Bobby Z by Don Winslow

~August~

  1. A Million Drops by Victor Del Arbol (Spanish Lit Month) Half-read
  2. All This I Will Give to You by Dolores Redondo (Spanish Lit Month/WIT Month, translated from the Spanish by Michael Meigs)
  3. The Winter of Frankie Machine by Don Winslow

~September~

  1. S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (for the R.I.P. XV)
  2. Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara (read-along with Wuthering Expectations)
  3. A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (Book Club)
  4. The Bell in The Lake by Lars Mytting (translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin)
  5. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (for the R.I.P. XV)
  6. Find Me by André Aciman

~October~

  1. The Searcher by Tana French (R.I.P XV)
  2. The Witch Hunter by Max Seeck (R.I.P. XV, Finnish)
  3. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (Women’s Prize for Fiction winner)

~November~

  1. The Lost Resort by Susie Holliday
  2. Too Good to be True by Carola Lovering
  3. You Would Have Missed Me by Birgit Vanderbeke (German Lit Month, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch)
  4. Wolves in the Dark by Gunnar Staalesen (translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett)
  5. Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci
  6. The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

~December~
Finished the ESV Study Bible begun in January, 2020..

The Year in Reading: 2020 Wrap Up

I have only read 70 books in 2020, and none in December, which surprises me because it was a perfect year to read as there was so little else to do. As one of my friends said to me, when the pandemic first began, “Quarantine is an introvert’s paradise.”

Yet, I found myself involved in many other things than reading, such as preparing lovely meals, walking in the woods, and caring for my family. And so, I wrap up my reading year with these brief highlights:

Read alongs:

Malicroix by Henri Bosco, translated by Joyce Zonana

Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara

The Makioka Sisters by Juni’chiro Tanizuki

The Booker International Prize 2020:

Joining the International Booker Shadow Jury as we read for the International Booker Prize 2020.


Reading Challenges:

Spanish Lit Month, hosted by Stu this July

German Lit Month, hosted by Caroline and Lizzy this November

Japanese Literature Challenge 13, hosted by myself from January through March

Women in Translation Month, hosted by Meytal

20 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy

R.I.P. XV, begun by Carl

1920 Club, hosted by Kaggsy and Simon

Edgar Award nominations for Best Novel:

Top Ten Books of 2020:

Looking forward to:

I am eager to begin the Japanese Literature Challenge 14 with many of you (all are welcome!) in January. Let’s take the next month to read Breasts and Eggs by Meiko Kawakami, which won the Akutagawa Prize and is highly praised by Haruki Murakami. We can discuss it at the end of January, which gives us time to read and discuss it.

I believe I will also take some time to revisit some old favorites. If there ever was a time to read for comfort, this Winter May qualify. I would like to reread Possession by A. S. Byatt, The Crimson Petal and The White by Michel Faber, Watership Down by Richard Adams. I would also like to read more Russian literature, of which I have quite a stack.

And, you? What were your favorite reads of 2020? What do you look forward to in 2021?

Merry Christmas!

Because my husband has French ancestors, he has always signed my Christmas cards with Joyeux Noel. But, it doesn’t matter which language we speak as we take the time to wish each other hope, peace, love and joy this December.

What an unusual year it has been with the pandemic and social/political unrest. Yet, there have been pockets of joy in my life, which I hope you, too, were able to find. My son just had hernia surgery, and so he is home with us recuperating. I love his presence at the table for meals, or how we read to each other each night by the tree, despite the pain that he must go through to heal.

I stop to count the happy bits of 2020, which include walks at Herrick Lake, coffee and laughter with my parents, tea parties in the pergola, birthday celebrations on the patio, being able to worship in church. There have been endless hours to read this year, although not this month (and I look forward to sharing more literature together in 2021). What we have been denied, only makes me appreciate what we do have all the more; there is no time that I go to the grocery store without being grateful for full shelves so unlike what I saw last March.

My theme for this Christmas, for the year to come, is found in the Old Testament:

And He shall be our peace.

Micah 5:5

I pray this peace for us, for today, for our new year. May we find peace in Him, for it is not to be found anywhere else.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

The Japanese Literature Challenge 14 (Coming January 2021)

I have been seeing posts of reading plans for 2021 on many of my friends’ blogs, and I hope that you will find time this coming year to join in the Japanese Literature Challenge now to begin its fourteenth year.

As in years past, it will run from January through March. We will read books in translation (unless you are able to read Japanese), and review them on our blogs. You may also choose to leave thoughts on social media with #JapaneseLitChallenge14. I have now set up a review site for you to leave links, as before.

Here are some of the titles, many coming in 2021, which I will review during the challenge:

Coming from Penguin Random House on April 6, 2021
Coming from Penguin Random House on March 2, 2021
Coming from Abrams Books on March 9, 2021
From Pan Macmillan on September 19, 2019
Breasts and Eggs took my breath away.” ~Haruki Murakami


Also, there will be a group read of Breasts and Eggs, by Mieko Kawakami who has been “hailed by Haruki Murakami as Japan’s most important contemporary novelist.” The novel also won the Akutagawa Prize.

I hope that you will join us this year, whether for the first time or the fourteenth. Please leave a comment if you’re interested in participating, so that I can add you to the review site.

November Was…

(The Morton Arboretum)

It was a rather strange November: it rained most of the days, and I went barefoot in my shoes much longer than I normally do as the chill wasn’t grasping for my feet when I went on walks. I think walking three days a week has been a saving grace, refreshing beyond belief to be out and renewed in the woods.

Thanksgiving Day was without church, for the first time I can remember in my life, as we have had to shut down so much again. (But, I am thankful for Sunday mornings when we can still gather with safety precautions in place.) It was also without my parents, and cousins, and aunt and uncle, but our son came to eat the turkey with us. I never knew such a quiet Thanksgiving meal, yet I was so grateful for his presence, with my husband and I.

I have been burying myself in thrillers, more than translated literature, lately. They seem an easy escape. Sometimes, they end up being not so thrilling, but here is the list of what I read in November:

  1. The Lost Resort by Susie Holliday
  2. Too Good to be True by Carola Lovering
  3. You Would Have Missed Me by Birgit Vanderbeke (German Lit Month, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch)
  4. Wolves in the Dark by Gunnar Staalesen (translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett) 
  5. Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci
  6. The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

I reviewed none of them, sadly, although I would highly recommend You Would Have Missed Me by Birgit Vanderbeke, which I read for German Lit Month. As it is published by Peirene Press, who claims their books can be read in two hours, it is rather short. But, I have never been able to manage two hours; I am a much slower reader, absorbing every nuance that I can.

I’m not sure what the fuss is over David Baldacci? I see his latest best-selling Atlee Pine novel is Daylight, which is third in a series. So, I thought I should acquaint myself with the first before I read the third, and I was not so impressed. Atlee seems to tick all the boxes of a powerful female character, one who even lifts weights, but the best thing about Long Road to Mercy was the setting of the Grand Canyon.

And now we begin December. I’m looking forward to Johanna Basford’s Advent pages (free to download here), Illustrated Faith’s Advent, Jacquie Lawson’s Nordic Advent Calendar, and the Advent reading plan in my ESV Bible (online). These little traditions make me feel like a child again, for which I am glad, because I think we need the eyes of children especially in December.

For German Lit Month, a few considerations…

Peirene Press (You Would Have Missed Me is shortlisted for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize)

Why Peirene chose to publish this book:

Today, as in the past, people flee from one country to another in the hope of finding a better future. But how do children experience such displacement? How do they cope with traumas of a refugee camp? In this novel Birgit Vanderbeke goes back to her own childhood in the divided Germany of the 1960s. She shows how the little girl she once was saved herself by imagining countries on the far side of the world. A masterpiece of memory turned into fiction. 

Written by Birgit Vanderbeke
Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch

An unnamed narrator, recently bereaved, travels to Olevano, a small village south-east of Rome. It is winter, and from her temporary residence on a hill between village and cemetery, she embarks on walks and outings, exploring the banal and the sublime with equal dedication and intensity. Seeing, describing, naming the world around her is her way of redefining her place within it. Written in a rich and poetic style, Grove is an exquisite novel of grief, love and landscapes.

GROVE

Esther Kinsky

Translated by Caroline Schmidt

Published 15 April 2020
French paperback with flaps, 280 pages


A kaleidoscopic family saga told through the fractured lives of the three Moreau siblings, alongside a faltering, recovering love story, The End of Loneliness is a stunning meditation on the power of our memories, of what can be lost and what can never be let go. With inimitable compassion and luminous, affecting praise, Benedict Wells contends with what it means to find a way through life, while never giving up hope you will find someone to go with you.

Written by Benedict Wells, translated from the German by Charlotte Collins

I read the introduction to German Literature Month 10 on Beauty Is A Sleeping Cat , where Caroline not only extends an invitation but outlines a few authors chosen to focus on in November (should you wish). This is always an event I appreciate very much, as it widens my knowledge of German literature greatly. Perhaps you will join us this month as well?

Sunday Salon: Gratitude Documemted 2020

It is a more difficult year than usual to document our gratitude, and yet, with the arrival of November (and Thanksgiving!), and the tumult we face before the year is quite finished, I believe it is all the more necessary to do so.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

~1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

It is hard to give thanks when I am worried, when the worries seem to pile up unabated around me. But, I know that when I give thanks I am able to look toward the good and focus on hope rather than doubt. It helps me to document gratitude within a book to which I can refer on especially dark days.

The photos above are only the beginning of what I have prepared for November. They show a little book I made, with the help of a kit from Illustrated Faith. (I believe you can still buy some pieces for it here.) There is a prompt for each day, under which I have written the verse. On the back I will make it more personal, writing in it like a journal pointing to specific events from this year which have been especially lovely. Like having coffee with my parents several times a week. Walking with my husband through the fall colors at the Arboretum. Getting a text from my son that says he is fine.

Will you document gratitude this year? Will you join in me in looking for the beauty amidst the trial? Let us find the good and give thanks for it.

It’s Time to Vote for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2020. There’s just one thing…

I received an email in my inbox this morning that it’s time to vote for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2020. I’m not much of a Goodreads fan, but I went over there anyway just to see what was on their lists.

It was easy to vote for Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell in the Historical Fiction section. And, Tana French’s latest book, The Searcher, in Mystery and Thriller. I don’t read Young Adult, or Poetry, or Romance, or even much popular fiction these days, so I kept scrolling for a category which I adore.

Perhaps you will not be as shocked as I was, but there is no category for Books in Translation! Now, I know there is the Booker International Prize, and the Best Translated Book Award, and a myriad of other awards for translated literature. But, I thought that such a large forum as Goodreads would include it as a category for a reader’s Choice Award. Surely, they are not so narrow.

My opinion of them has not changed much since my latest visit. In fact, I would be so inclined as to call the name Goodreads a misnomer, if not an oxymoron, since they are so remiss as to exclude one of the best genres of all.

What do you think? Am I the silly one for expecting to find Books in Translation a category within which to vote?

The Bell In The Lake by Lars Mytting (A work of historical fiction, published today, which I loved.)

The minute I began reading, I was immersed in the small town of Butangen, Norway, hundreds of years ago. I read of the conjoined twins whose father, Eirik Hekne, had the Sister Bells cast in their honor. The bells were forged of bronze and silver, for Eirik threw into the melting pot not only all of his silver cutlery, but two fistfuls of silver coins. Was he being wasteful? Perhaps not, as the bells were cast from his fortune, but also in grief and longing.

Few Felt that silver was better spent on church bells than on barns, yet they took it as a reminder that hardship was easier to bear than sorrow. (p. 124)

I read that Norwegian nights are “coal-black in the winter, filling even the stoutest heart with fear.” I read of the stave church, built of wood in the 1100’s, embellished with the heads of dragons. The door of the one in Butangen was once surrounded by a carved serpent and decorated with Nordic symbols. It is in such a church that Kai Schweigaard has come to pastor, that lovely Astrid Hekne visits with elderly Klara Mytting. It is in such a church that Klara dies in the bitter cold at the edge of her pew, against a wall, during one service. Her death causes Kai to wonder how his parishioners’ needs can be better met by the church.

Photo credit

The painter Johan Christian Dahl, made a professor in Dresden, aroused interest in Germany over Norway’s culture, especially the stave churches. The churches were dismantled in Norway where they were no longer wanted, and rebuilt in Germany, thus preserving their historic value. Each beam, each stave, each plank of the medieval church must be carefully recorded so that it could be accurately rebuilt in its new home.

And so, a young German artist named Gerard Schonauer is sent to Butangen to draw the church, to fulfill the architectural plans that have been set before him. But, he was not sent to fall in love with Astrid. And certainly not to leave the bells in their native village in Norway instead of being taken to a new, unfamiliar home in Germany.

The bells seem to have a mystical power of their own, almost personifying the sisters for whom they were named. They have an uncanny way of ringing unexpectedly, or falling suddenly; they seem to know where danger lurks.

He (Astrid’s grandfather) started to talk about the powers of the Sister Bells. “They do nay ring for pretty things. They donae ring to warn of forest bandits or a little earthslide. They ring when folk mun wake up and choose wisely. Or to warn of a disaster as they did in 1814.” (p. 124)

While it might be easy, in theory, to take down a church, the German officials do not understand the power of the Sister Bells any more than they understand the church was originally a house of worship containing far more than wooden staves made from the tallest pines of the forest.

I can’t do this, Gerard said to himself. Nobody can. If the church is taken down it’ll never be made whole again. There’s more here than I can ever understand. The most important thing of all, an inner essence, will disappear when we demolish it.

But another anxiety gripped him too. An anxiety that had started when, on that first day, he had heard the church bells. Now he got the distinct feeling that they disliked him They were somewhere above him, where they lived, free in the air, in fragile balance. (p. 129)

Creating bells that are as real as any character may seem an extraordinary thing to write about. But, they took on a presence that stood for something. More than being merely powerful bells of bronze and silver, the Sister Bells stood for tradition. For superstitions. For two sisters, their father, and the bond made in a small Norwegian village between a young woman and the two men who loved her. It is an atmospheric book, of powerful proportions, that fully transported me to Norway in the nineteenth century. I cannot stop thinking about what I have read, pondering the history, the religion, and the sacrifices made within these pages.

Lars Mytting, Norway’s bestselling novelist, is the author of Norwegian Wood. His books, which have sold over 1 million copies in 19 languages, have won the Norwegian Bookseller Prize and have been shortlisted for the prestigious Dublin IMPAC Prize, among others. The Bell in the Lake has been sold in 12 countries and was a #1 bestseller in Norway.

  • Imprint: The Overlook Press
  • Publication Date: September 29, 2020
  • Price: $27.00
  • Trim Size: 6 x 9
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-4318-4
  • EAN: 9781419743184
  • Page Count: 400
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Rights: North America
  • Additional formats: Ebook