It’s been an interesting and challenging year so far. I know that many have struggled with their reading in times of COVID-19 but I’ve had the opposite experience. I’ve managed to read more even when many of my workdays have been filled with scientific reading. As a result, I’m way ahead with all my reading challenges (not that there’s many of those this year). So I’m happy to report 6 months early that I’m done with my first round of the European Book Challenge. I’ve read books from all 5 countries (Spain, Portugal, Greece, Estonia, and Lithuania) and I’m looking forward to continuing my literary journey.
17 countries down, 27 more to go – that’s where I’m at in the middle of 2020 (see the map above). It’s been an adventure already. I intentionally tried to diversify my reading list to explore not only different countries but also different genres and topics (I think I succeeded). Little did I know that some of the books will become my instant favorites… and I’m just at the beginning of this journey.
Yes, you’re not mistaken. I read not one but two books by Carlos Ruiz Zafón because I liked the first one so much that I immediately ordered the second one. I plan to read the remaining two books in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series as well (unfortunately, I heard from a trusted source that they might not be as good).
I literally devoured both books and I loved both books but for different reasons. The Shadow of the Wind was an intriguing mystery that kept me guessing all the way to the end. Despite some clumsy moments and a couple of plot holes (in my humble opinion), it has great entertainment value and I really enjoyed it. The Angel’s Game seemed like a completely different story altogether. Much darker, much deeper… and with a mystery that is never truly explained. I loved it all the more for that. I appreciated how the city of Barcelona was an integral part of both stories and at times I wanted to pull out a map and follow the movements of the characters (I used Google maps to pinpoint the main locations). I’m pretty sure that if I visit Barcelona again, I might add some extra sightseeing based on these books.
Finally, I’m glad that I read the books when I did. Carlos Ruiz Zafón passed away only a few days ago and the world has clearly lost another great writer. May he rest in peace.
The Double by José Saramago (Goodread’s review)
I chose this book because of the intriguing set-up – an ordinary man accidentally finds out that he has a double, an identical copy of himself. Or maybe he is the copy? He becomes obsessed with finding and confronting the man which sets in motion a chain of interesting events. It took me some time to get into the story, partially because of the writing style (long sentences, very few paragraphs) and partially because the story needs digesting. Half of the book is filled with rather philosophical musings of what is right or wrong and are we all that unique or original (not to mention the conversations of the main characters with common sense). The story picks up the pace towards the end and the ending really hit it out of the ballpark for me. It’s not a book I will easily forget.
Why I Killed My Best Friend by Amanda Michalopoulou (Goodread’s review)
Friendship can be complicated. In this book, friendship is rather destructive. Two girls returned to Greece (one from Africa, the other – from Paris) meet at school and form what seems a close friendship. Their other passion that plays an important role throughout the book is political activism. As much as it is an interesting coming of age story, it’s also frustrating and at times difficult to read (occasionally, I just wanted to slap one or both of them). I felt I lacked some knowledge of recent Greek history to fully understand the context. However, it shed some light on political activism (apparently, there’s a fashion and current trends in everything…). Finally, I was really disappointed by the ending. It just didn’t work for me. I almost felt that it made the whole book somewhat unnecessary, nullified the journey of one of the main characters. But I’m glad I read it.
The Reconstruction by Rein Raud (read in Latvian)
The dying seeks the answers about the dead – that’s the shortest synopsis of this book. A father who has lost his daughter in weird circumstances (collective suicide) gets diagnosed with cancer and has only a few months left to live. The last thing he wants to do before his death is to find out how his daughter got to the point of taking her own life… So he spends time meeting and talking to people that knew her during the last years before her passing. It’s not a thriller or a mystery, it’s a story about getting closure. And a story about religious extremism (without invoking any particular religion) that explains how young people in search of themselves or some higher power disconnect from this world and lose (or find?) their way. It’s not as heavy and depressive read as one could have thought.
Silva Rerum by Kristina Sabaliauskaitė (read in Latvian)
A little gem of historical fiction from the Baltics. Following the story of one family, we’re thrown in the midst of 17th century Lithuania with all the post-war challenges, adventures, love, and family dealings. The author has clearly done extensive research as the descriptions of the settings and events seem to hold great attention to detail. If going in, I was a bit skeptical then by the end of the book, I was totally hooked and rooting for all the main characters. The language and writing style is also quite specific and I don’t know if it would be possible to translate it into English. I’m currently reading the second book in this series and I’m sure I’ll finish all four of them soon enough. It’s really my type of historical fiction.
I have to admit that I’ve already been hoarding books for the second round of my European Book Challenge. Some were impulse buys but others were quite intentional. Either way, I’m excited to start on my next 5 countries.
We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen
First of all, I want to fill in the blanks of missing Scandinavian countries. When looking at what Denmark has to offer, I came across this epic drama that promises everything! It will probably be the longest book I’ll read this year (and it’s already sitting on my bookshelf).
Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason
I had a few candidates of Icelandic literature but this one caught my eye in the Latvian Book Fair and I made an impulse purchase. I guess one cannot fully give up on Scandinavian crime novels (not that I would want to).
I’m still working on choosing the right book from the Belgian literary scene. I have my eye on Annelies Verbeke’s Thirty Days but I’m not fully set on it just yet.
Just to finish filling in the blanks with neighboring countries, I plan to read something from Belorussian literature. It seems like Svetlana Alexievich’s books are more accessible in English; therefore, I might pick one of those. Besides, she is also a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature which is always a promising sign.
Voroshilovgrad by Serhiy Zhadan
I hadn’t decided that I will include Ukraine in the challenge so soon but an impulse purchase of Serhiy Zhadan’s book sealed the deal. The book synopsis is quite unintelligible; therefore, I’ll just have to dive in without any assumptions.
Happy reading, everyone!