Thursday, June 24, 2010

Literary serendipity

I was warned before I moved to Istanbul that English-language books would be expensive and sometimes hard to come by, but books take up a lot of precious suitcase space and weight allowance that is better devoted to booze, smelly cheese, and various pork products. So while I usually can't resist picking up one or two books on a trip abroad, I've largely had to make do with other procurement tactics. I know plenty of folks who spend a lot of time and money ordering specific books to be brought in by willing visitors coming from places where Amazon.com delivery is cheaper, but in line with my general attempt not to bemoan the things I don't have, I've taken a fairly zen approach to my literary life and largely read whatever happens to come my way.

Thanks to the books friends have recommended and loaned, let me "steal" off their shelves, or left behind when they cleaned house or moved away, I've immersed myself in the true-life love story of a French villager and a British soldier caught behind enemy lines in World War I; a heartbreakingly beautiful Nigerian novel; travelogues along the old Silk Road and all around Iran; fascinating historical fiction about a family driven out of 15th century Granada; the life of expats in the rapidly "modernizing" Saudi Arabia of the 1970s and 1980s; and a tale about young rural exiles during the Chinese cultural revolution. Not all of my serendipitous discoveries have been five-star reads, of course, but there have been enough brilliant ones that I may never decide on a particular book to read again. I'll just continue letting the books pick me.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

These books all sound very interesting! Would you mind sharing the titles/authors?

Tactless Wonder said...

Aaah, that's the way I read my way around Mexico. Memories...and it doesn't go away. I love raiding my apartment building's "library" for the next oddity...

Elizabeth said...

i guess this strategy works particularly well if you have friends with good books :) What silk road travel book did you read?

Natalie said...

The books sound great. I'd love the titles too!

Jen said...

Yes, I admit this strategy would certainly be a lot less satisfying if all my friends were avid readers of the latest mystery novels and bodice rippers. But so would my whole life in that case...

The books, in order of mention, are:

"A Foreign Field" by Ben Macintyre
"Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
"Shadow of the Silk Road" by Colin Thubron
"The Soul of Iran" by Afshin Molavi
"Leo the African" by Amin Maalouf
"The Saudis" by Sandra Mackey
"Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" by Dai Sijie