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review 2017-12-29 22:16
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Exit West - Mohsin Hamid

This is a fantastic novella. It’s a parable of globalization, but its brilliance is in rendering real, three-dimensional characters even from a brief scene or description.

Exit West is set in the modern world, beginning in an unnamed Middle Eastern country on the brink of civil war, where two young people meet in a classroom and are propelled by circumstances into a premature intimacy. The difference between this book and the real world is that when Nadia and Saeed – and millions of others around the world – decide to flee or to immigrate, they do so by way of doors that randomly appear and allow teleportation from one part of the globe to another.

Some have criticized this decision for erasing the harrowing travel that is a hallmark of many real-world refugee experiences, which it does. But I don’t think telling the story of refugees is Hamid’s primary goal, though it is part of the book. The doorways allow him to speed up globalization, take the world’s growing interconnectedness to its breaking point in a brief span of time, and ask big questions about what how world will look in the decades to come, with ever quicker travel combined with massive disparities in wealth and security. How much sense do borders really make in today’s world and the world of the future? Can we afford to limit our focus to our own countries? What happens as people continue to flee from poor and war-torn parts of the world to Europe and the U.S. – how will richer countries respond and be changed?

There’s a lot packed into this short book, measuring over 200 pages only due to generous margins and spacing, as well as two blank pages between each chapter. But what holds it together is the vitality, complexity and humanity of the characters, our protagonists and the people they encounter as well as the characters we briefly meet in vignettes from all over the world. The book can sometimes be hard to read, especially for long stretches, because the characters’ circumstances are often tough, and when they are as real as people you know, it’s impossible not to care. Then too, the writing is excellent: not flowery, but assured, every word in the right place.

Overall, a fantastic book, with great characters, an involving story and a lot of food for thought. And while the subject matter can be difficult, it never becomes hopeless. I highly recommend it.

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review 2017-05-21 20:55
Nor Any Country by Garth St. Omer
Nor Any Country - Garth St Omer

This novella is only 96 pages long, plus a laudatory 20-page essay about the work by one Jeremy Poynting. (I was puzzled by how a work no one had a word to say about on Goodreads could have the sort of academic following implied by this essay, until a Google search revealed that Poynting is its publisher.) The book follows its protagonist, Peter, as he returns to his unnamed island home (presumed by the publisher to be St. Omer’s home country of St. Lucia) for a brief visit after many years of study abroad.

Unfortunately, where Mr. Poynting saw subtle brilliance, the novella seemed to me mostly a mundane catalogue of Peter’s wandering about the island conversing with various people; his role in the conversations consists largely of creating a sense of his own superiority by saying little and smiling often. While visiting, he must decide what to do about the wife with whom he had no communication during his years abroad, but the narrative does little to show us how he arrives at his choice. Mostly Peter, while traveling about the island, simply ruminates on his European ex-girlfriends. There’s precious little narrative momentum in any of this, and little to interest the reader in the protagonist. Some of the supporting characters seem more interesting, but have limited room to breathe in such a short work.

As for the writing itself, it is adequate but sometimes lacking in clarity; numerous times I had to re-read passages to figure out what the author was trying to say. Written in the 1960s, the book seems to assume cultural understanding that a modern, non-Caribbean reader is unlikely to have: while racial politics are quite important in this setting, readers are left to deduce the race of almost all of the characters on their own (and I’m still not sure about Daphne).

All that said, this is a very short book that will leave readers somewhat more informed about the issues facing a society in a particular time and place. While the lack of clarity sometimes slows down the reading, large amounts of dialogue should keep readers from getting too bogged down.

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url 2017-04-10 16:52
Which countries publishes the most books?

Have you ever wondered which country publishes the most books per year? You may think you know the answer, but you might be surprised! Take a look and see where your country lies on the book-publishing map. 

Source: www.bookstr.com/article/which-country-publishes-the-most-books/3411?utm_campaign=724278_newsletter_170304&utm_medium=email&utm_source=The%20Reading%20Room%20&dm_i=2P56,FIUU,Z2B5Q,1LM49,1
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review 2016-09-12 11:54
The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It - Paul Collier

As a Master's student in Global Health, I am interested in international development, and this book provided a good introduction to the more economic side of development. 

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review 2016-05-15 00:00
Spotlight on English-Speaking Countries
Spotlight on English-Speaking Countries ... Spotlight on English-Speaking Countries - N. Timanovskaya I was prepared to be amazed by the breadth of understanding and learned tone, covering 5 large countries in comparatively few pages, until I had to add this book's record manually and saw the publication date.

I'm not saying its source is Wikipedia, since it's far more concise than Wikipedia, but its breadth as a foreign publication is slightly less impressive now that it seems that it was written far after the end of the Soviet Union.

The writer, a Russian? woman? based on the name, has a tight control of pertinent information and novelty, even if she? spends the least amount of time on the U.S.A.

Trivia that seemed the most interesting:
-- The Native Americans who sold Manhattan for a bundle of beads had no claim on it themselves and thought they'd made just as much of a bargain.

-- Wall Street was named after a wall that existed there to protect the Dutch settlement.

-- Las Vegas was named after the only oasis of green found on the land.

-- The Puritans were Protestants who wanted to rid Protestanstitism of all vestiges of Catholicism, and they helped sparked a civil war deposing the British king before finally being driven out to America themselves.

-- The term "Hippies" refers to the fact that drugtakers in Asia would lie on one hip while taking Opium

-- N. America is generally colder than Europe

-- 1/6 of Americans will be over 65 by 2020

-- Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world

-- Canada appears to have a relatively low population of secondary school and university educated people compared to the U.S.

-- Something like 40% of Canadian companies are US-owned.

-- Grizzly bears can't climb trees.

-- The UK had to move their overcrowded prisons to Australia shortly after they lost America to revolution. Just how punishing a society was 18th-century England, anyway?

-- The UK has no written constitution

-- UK Parliament gets 17 weeks of vacation a year

-- The word "Tories" is an Irish word for "thieves"

-- Brits typically don't sign Valentine's Day cards

-- New Year's "First Footing" tradition in UK

-- Pancake races while flipping pancakes in pan, UK

-- The dummy on Guy Fawkes Night is called a "guy"

-- The kilt did not become popular until the beginning of the 18th century.

-- Central and Western Australia weren't explored by Brits for some 50 years after the first penal colonies established in New South Wales, and most of the explorers going east to west or north to south seemed some of the least fleet of foot and brain in their failures to do so.
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