Monday, August 19, 2013

"Where do we go from here?" - reading: Jane Austen in Baghdad, self-discovery in France, holidays & wars, and more

This blog post is inspired by the general joy of reading, the 7 continents reading challenge, and a blog series. More, at the bottom of this post.

Last week brought some world-reading, with a book that leads from UK to Baghdad, and one that leads from Germany to France.... both dealing with the large questions of life: "How to go on?"

Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad
This book is about an unusual mail friendship between women who live in very different hemisphere and circumstances: it starts when BBC journalist Bee Rowlatt looked for citizens in Baghdad in 2007 to interview about their situation and how daily life can go in a time of invasion, with its difficult, war-ridden circumstances. and one of the persons she interviews is from the university: May Witwit, a lecturer of English – and from that interview, a mail dialogue develops that leads through years.  

Reading through the ongoing mail conversation, I also kept thinking of the situation in Iraq now, and of Egypt and Syria: so many families are trapped in those places of turmoil, hoping things will return to peace, and wishing they had fled earlier, and just stuck there, in a world that turned upside down, where shops close, where streets are blocked, where justice and security and normality walked away. The mails from May are contrasted by Bee’s mail from UK, who talks about the life there. And when reading, is also contrasted by my own life. The way I can drive to places, access the internet, be able to go jogging, or go for a walk, a life that comes with problems and frustrations, too, and illness and dramas, but on a very different level. 
Here's the Goodreads-link to the book.

Where do we go from here?
This is one of the chance books I wouldn't have picked myself, but it stood there in the telephone box book exchange - it's from Doris Dörrie, the German filmmaker with the “Hamami” film that is set in Japan. And just like the Hamami film, this book deals with the big life questions: how to deal with life, our dreams, and the reality that sometimes leaves us stuck in situations that seem like a self-created knot.  What when we don't feel at home in the life we created for ourselves? 

Writing this, I just noticed this parallel to Hamami: that the story starts in the West, but leads to the "East", in this book: to a buddhist retreat in France which is key to the story.

I just wished they had given the book a different cover than the one with the chic dancing couple in the photo above. Yet when I saw the English edition, I had to smile: it looks like a different novel, but also doesn't really catch the book and its mood. Here's the book description, and mostly, this really is a humorous and thoughtful journey of self-discovery that takes the reader along the way.

Meet Fred Kaufmann, disillusioned husband of thoroughly competent Claudia and father of surly teenager Franka. His dreams of being a movie director have long ago been shelved for marriage and a child. While Claudia sells her successful vegetarian take-out restaurant to a fast food chain and buys into Buddhism, Fred is trapped in the throes of a classic midlife crisis, made worse when Franka falls madly in love with a young guru. With the hope that brown rice and hardcore meditation will cure Franka's obsession, Fred chaperones his daughter to the meditation center in the South of France. But as a bizarre set of events unfolds, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery that only a special kind of hero can survive. Funny, incisive, and ultimately forgiving, "Where Do We Go From Here?" is a masterpiece of ironic social comedy from one of Germany's leading writers and filmmakers. (the book at Goodreads)


Holidays, borders, war & this world
From books to film and to the news: the theme of the two worlds in "Austen in Baghdad" continued after I read the book, in a film that was featured in TV: “The Color of the Ocean”. The film tells the parallel storis of  boat migrants from Africa who try to make it to the Canary islands, and of a tourist who is trying to help when they are washed ashore. The contact creates a difficult connection between those worlds, and shows the twisted identity of the shore as both a holiday-bath-in-the-sun place, and a dangerous crossing line into Europe. Here’s the film page with trailer:

While reading the Baghdad book, the situation in Egypt got worse, and on Friday, the German travel agencies announced that all upcoming package journeys are cancelled until September. It was one of the main news items of that day, as Egypt still is well-visited from Europe. So you had the bizarre combination of news from Kairo with the almost civil-war-like scenes, and the death toll of 500 and rising. And then you had the travel warning, and frustrated families at the airport who had to go back home instead of boarding their holiday flight. Which, thinking of it in relation to the people who live in Cairo and what they are going through, isn’t really a drama.

Watching the reports, it seemed like 2 views on one place, one from inside as citizen, and one from the “but-we-want-our-summer-holiday-as-planned”-view. But i guess this is how the human mind works, that we see the world through the filter of our life, and that books like Austen in Baghdad help to show a view that you seldom see in the news: the difficult everyday life of people trapped in an occupied zone. 


France & Finding Books

Upcoming... when all works out, I will heading to France next week, and I am currently figuring out which book to take along - will blog about them before leaving. I really enjoy this literal discovery-tour of the world. For some helpful resoursec, try this list of links that i pieced together earlier this year: Finding books by country: helpful links + resources

Previous reading blog entries are collected here: bookshelf: currently  reading... there also is a visual bookshelf, just click it to get there.

Around the world is a challenge by book blogger Giraffe Days. Here's the challenge overview link, and here the Belgium reading challenge page.

More monday reads from other bloggers: link list at book journey

And my own new book... is Worl(d)s Apart. True.


Lindsey said...

Talking About Jane Austen...sounds like an interesting comparison. And it seems to just be asking to be read alongside Reading Lolita in Tehran. Have you read that one?

Dorothee said...

Lindsey, thanks for this book suggestion! I hadn't known about "Reading Lolita in Tehran", and just bookmarked it.