Postcard from my bookshelf #3

This month sees the first blind selection from the nearly 200 applications I have received so far for this project. I used an online random-number generator to make the pick and counted down the comments until I arrived at the corresponding entry.

This was from Introverted Blahs and Hurrahs, who told me the following:

Couple years ago a friend told me about your blog and since then I have kept thinking, what a nice challenge! I love the idea because I love to read about other cultures, to learn, to grow, be open minded. I for sure wants to start with reading of the world but not in one year. I fear that is not possible for me, I read about 80 books per year. And I fear that I will not be able to read books from all countries that might not be translated in Dutch or English.
And I also like to pass on the books. I cleared out over 100 books and gave it to free library. So I have space for new books ūüėČ

First of all, I have to say that I think Introverted Blahs and Hurrahs is being rather hard on herself here. Reading 80 books in a year is pretty good going by most people’s standards. Many of the readers engaged in international quests I’ve heard from are taking a number of years to work their way through their intended lists, so I don’t think Introverted Blahs and Hurrahs (or IBH, as I’ll call her from now on) has anything to feel bad about on that score. In fact, I know an author who¬†wrote a book about reading 52 books in a year, so she’s well ahead of him!

From her blog of the same name, I learned that IBH lives in the Netherlands and ‚Äď to my delight ‚Äď that she has recently posted about her intention to travel the world through books. It was a joy to see another curious bibliophile setting out to explore the rich world of books and to witness her beginning to grapple with some of the questions that I had to wrestle with during my adventure, such as how you categorise books by authors with dual nationalities or by people born in one place but living in another.

Knowing that this reader was keen to access literature from all over the planet gave me lots of ideas about what I might choose for her. But before I get to that, there’s another title I would like to recommend.

This isn’t the book I’ll be sending, but it’s one I think IBH would enjoy if she hasn’t already read it:¬†Quiet¬†by Susan Cain, who has also given the TED talk embedded below. As a fellow introvert, I found the book hugely informative and helpful, and would recommend it to anyone who ever feels overwhelmed by the noise and pressure to be heard that so often characterise life in much of the English-speaking world.


Quiet is not a translated book, however. Instead, as my Postcard to IBH, I wanted to choose something that would help her tick off one of the nations less well-represented in the anglophone publishing world.

There were a number of worthy candidates. I could, for example, have chosen the recently published¬†Baho! by Roland Rugero, the first novel from Burundi to be translated into English, or Abdulaziz Al Farsi’s strange and intriguing¬†Earth Weeps, Saturn Laughs from Oman.

After much deliberation, however, I decided to go with a title I haven’t mentioned on this blog since I read it for my original quest in 2012: the funny and irreverent¬†Last Will & Testament of Senhor da Silva Ara√ļjo¬†by Germano Almeida from Cape Verde. Pleasingly, this has also been translated into Dutch, so I could have sent IBH a copy in her native language, but as this intrepid explorer is clearly more than capable of tackling the book in English, I decided to stick with the version I read.

I hope you enjoy it, IBH. Happy literary travels!

If you’d like a chance to receive a postcard from my bookshelf, visit the project post and leave a comment telling me a bit about you and what you like to read. The next recipient will be announced on April 15.

Cape Verde: where there’s a will…

There can be few more fertile topics for a¬†story than the reading of a will. For¬†writers such as¬†George Eliot and Henry James ‚ÄĒ¬†to name but two ‚ÄĒ revealing how a deceased¬†character has distributed¬†his or her¬†belongings is fraught with possibilities for drama, intrigue and dastardliness.

Often such scenes form the foundation for satire on the hypocrisy of families and the hollowness of human relationships, as¬†professions of love and loyalties are stripped away to reveal naked greed. But it’s rare that¬†these lampoons once rigged up¬†are then¬†dismantled to reveal the depth and subtlety that Cape Verdian writer and lawyer Germano Almeida achieves in this slender book.

Teetering on the grotesque at points, the narrative begins with the shock revelation that Senhor¬†Napumoceno¬†da Silva Ara√ļjo, a staid and respectable businessman in S√£o Vicente, has left his warehouse empire to¬†his previously unheard of lovechild rather than the nephew whose hard work and innovation helped him build it up. The discovery comes at the end of the reading of the 387-page will the tycoon has left to explain himself, and upon which the rest of the book is largely based.

What follows is a riotous, witty and at times anarchic account of da Silva Ara√ļjo’s¬†life, which straddles the archipelago’s¬†break from Portuguese rule¬†in 1975. Told in a lively voice that roams in and out of characters’ thoughts, dipping between registers as it goes, the novel reads like a good gossip with the town’s best storyteller ‚ÄĒ one who has an eye for the ridiculous and makes no bones about dishing the dirt on his contemporaries’ ‘hanky-panky’ and hollow airs and graces.

Occasionally the fluid structure can make the narrative tricky to follow. Zooming between the near and distant past, with dialogue represented in the midst of the description as a kind of half-digested reported speech, and paragraphs that often stretch over several pages, the text has a breathless, chaotic feel.

Almeida knows what he’s doing though: pulling together the threads like a craftsman erecting a ship in a bottle, he reveals da Silva¬†Ara√ļjo’s¬†character in all its wistful complexity. The ending is extraordinarily poignant. Vulnerable, pathetic and yet somehow noble, Senhor¬†da Silva¬†Ara√ļjo quietly assumes the stature of the tragic hero ‚ÄĒ drawing on a legacy that stretches back¬†to Miller, Shakespeare, Sophocles and Aeschylus, and yet is all his own.

The Last Will & Testament of Senhor¬†da Silva Ara√ļjo by Germano Almeida (translated from the Portuguese by Sheila Faria Glaser). Publisher (this edition): New Directions