JustJoey's tour through Europe

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JustJoey's tour through Europe

Editado: Jun 9, 2010, 3:40 pm

This group was recommended to me (thanks!) and I'm ready to dive in. My goal is to read one book about each European country (fiction) and one author of each European country (preferably the supposedly "best" writer of the country). Sometimes an author writes about a country. In that case, I'll choose, because I want to read at least two books per country (how ambitious :-)). I only add books I've read since 2010. Looking at my list so far, I see it's high time I shifted my attention to the rest of Europe!

Recommendations are highly appreciated and I'll surely search your threads to get inspired!

Jun 6, 2010, 9:40 am

Welocme aboard! You are surely not the only one here starting to become aware that some countries tend to be more frequently visited than others...I think we all have our common grazing grounds. A few even started sub-chellenges like "English counties".

Editado: Nov 7, 2021, 3:02 am

Change of plans. Instead of taking random trips around Europe, I thought it would be a fun idea to work out a travelling-scheme which will take me from one country to the other without entering another country. I figured out a travel-plan and try to read one book by one native author and/or a significant book about the country itself. I'll keep you posted on my progress, but I would love to hear recommendations from fellow-travellers and natives about books and authors.

This is my plan:

read: 45/48

United Kingdom: Atonement by Ian McEwan
Ireland: A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle
Iceland: Salka Valka by Halldór Kiljan Laxness
Denmark: Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg
Norway: Berlin Poplars by Anne B. Ragde.
Sweden: Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson.
Finland: Waar we ooit liepen / (Where Once We Walked) by Kjell Westö
Estonia: Purge by Sofi Oksanen
Latvia: Barnsteen by Guido Van Heulendonk
Russia: The Line by Olga Grushin
Belarus: De werkplaats van de duivel (Chilly Land) by Jáchym Topol
Lithuania: De schaduw van de slang by Saulius T. Kondrotas
Poland: Over het doppen van bonen (A Treatise on Shelling Beans) by Wieslaw Mysliwski
Germany: Het eerste weekend by Bernhard Schlink
Netherlands: De schilder en het meisje by Margriet de Moor
Belgium: Zwarte tranen by Tom Lanoye
Belgium: Mevrouw Verona daalt de heuvel af by Dimitri Verhulst
Luxembourg: The Expats by Chris Pavone
France: Alles waar ik spijt van heb by Philippe Claudel
Monaco: Plus belle sera la vie by Stéphane Bern
Andorra: Andorra by Peter Cameron
Spain: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Portugal: Act of the Damned by António Lobo Antunes
Italy: XY by Sandro Veronesi
Vatican City: Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
Switzerland: Het lot van de familie Meijer (Melnitz) by Charles Lewinsky
Liechtenstein: Von der Unendlichkeit der Ränder: Liechtenstein - Miszellen by Hans-Jörg Rheinberger
Austria: De dag dat ze Jakob kwamen halen (Einer) by Norbert Gstrein
Austria: Wie liefheeft slaapt niet / Schlafes Bruder by Robert Schneider
Czech Republic: No Saints or Angels by Ivan Klima
Slovakia: HhhH by Laurent Binet
Hungary: De nacht voor de scheiding (Válás Budán) by Sandor Marai
Ukraine: The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth (AT, 1932)
Moldova: Des mille et une façons de quitter la Moldavie by Lortchenkov Vladimir
Romania: Nadirs by Herta Muller
Bulgaria: The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman (1971)
Armenia: Het huis met de leeuweriken / Skylark Farm by Antonia Arslan
Azerbaijan: Ali and Nino by Kurban Said
Georgia: De eindeloze zee by Kéthévane Davrichewy
Turkey: Verloren grond by Murat Isik
Greece: The Convent: A Novel by Panos Karnezis
Albania: Het land waar je nooit sterft (The Country Where No One Ever Dies) by Ornela Vorpsi
Montenegro: The Full Monte: A Fulbright Scholar's Humorous and Heart-Warming Experience in Montenegro by Paul Dishman - 3,5 stars
Serbia: De tijgervrouw van Galina by Téa Obreht
Bosnia: How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišic
Croatia: On the Edge of Reason by Miroslav Krleža
Slovenia: De nieuwkomers (The Newcomers) by Lojze Kovacic (1984)

Editado: Jun 9, 2010, 4:25 pm

1. United Kingdom
My first step takes me across the channel from where I live. I'm reading Atonement by Ian McEwan. I'm over halfway now and I really like it. It took me a while to get into it, because I was busy with other reads I want to finish, but after a while it became clear that this is a book you cannot take lightly. I love the way McEWan puts down his characters.
I guess I'll be staying here for a couple of more days and then move on to Ireland. Does anyone have any special suggestions for an Irish author or book?

Jun 10, 2010, 3:13 am

J. G. Farrell's Troubles just won the Lost Booker. It's set in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence. Farrell is a wonderful writer who wrote too few books. Troubles and The Siege of Krishnapur are his two best.

Jun 10, 2010, 3:44 am

No separate entries for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland?

My choice for Ireland was Ken Bruen's The Guards which is set in Galway and just so happens to be the author's birthplace as well. It's a starter book for what (so far for me at least) is proving to be an excellent series. Not sure if it's the kind of thing you'll be looking for but as we're both in the Crime, Thriller & Mystery group I thought it worth the suggestion.

Jun 10, 2010, 2:33 pm

Well thanks Pamelad and AHS-Wolfy for the recommendations. Both books seems to be worth reading. I had already picked Roddy Doyle for Ireland, but now, it'll be tough to choose. Maybe I'll linger in Ireland a while longer, but I might also come back after I finished the "Grand Tour". Anyway, I was planning to read at least one book and one author for each country, so this makes it just a little easier.
No, I didn't separate the U.K., although I would love to visit Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, both in books and for real, because I stick with the nations and I've read quite a few books from the British isles in comparison to Eastern Europe anyway. But hey, I might just continue my tour once I get back in Belgium.

Please don't be deceived by my library. First, it only contains a small part of all the books I have and have read. Among those not catalogued, there are many, many thrillers. Second, it may well be that The Guards may be a bit less cozy than I usually read, but what's the fun of travelling if you never ever get adventurous and never leave the down-trodden paths.
So both of you, thank you very much, I really appreciate it and I'll keep you posted (and have your threads starred :-))

Jun 10, 2010, 7:15 pm

Roddy Doyle is an excellent choice for Ireland. The Woman Who Walked into Walls stuck in my mind for a long time after reading, and A Star Called Henry deals with the Easter Rebellion.

I admire the discipline to go calmly from one country to the adjoining one.

Jun 11, 2010, 3:38 pm

Well, Roddy Doyle it'll be then, as I've already decided I'll make a second tour through Europe after this one.
I can't take all the credit for the discipline to go calmly :-). I got my inspiration from someone else in this challenge, though I can't remember who. And I don't know if I'll be able to keep to my plans, but I'll certainly try. It seems to be the only way not to drown in books altogether...

I finished Atonement. I thought it was a beautiful book, though not quite what I'd expected. Reading the blur, I had thought it would have been a combination of a love-story and a drama, but I think what the book is really about, are the characters, the personal responsability for one's own acts and the interaction with other lives, however insignificant it may seem. It struck me e.g. that being passive or absent can also have a huge impact. That was beautiful.

So good-bye United Kingdom, I'm off to Ireland (via Afghanistan, as I've decided to broaden my horizon even more and tour the world alfabetically. You can follow this global journey on my Reading Globally-thread: http://www.librarything.nl/topic/92759)

Jun 12, 2010, 1:02 am

I'm reading A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle now (actually I'm listening to it on audio). I have to say it's a little odd, but well written, and I like it so far. To be honest, I was not familiar with him, and I found him specifically for my Ireland entry for this challenge...and then I stumbled on another book (which I would not recommend - The Music Lesson by Katharine Weber) who stole the spotlight.

Good Luck in your path. I've seen others use the same method for other challenges, and I stand in awe and wonder at the dedication. I can't even stick to reading something already on my shelf. My newest find is my favorite find. But these challenges have really helped me diversify my reading.

I also just joined a new challenge - Reading Through Time. It's struggling to get off the ground, but I'm looking forward to tracking books that way as well.

and welcome to the group!

Jun 12, 2010, 2:01 am

Hi Patrick, what a coincidence. But then, having somewhat the same reading-tastes, it can happen. I'll let you know what I think of it.
I notice many people on LT use audio-books. Over here, it's not familiar yet. How, when and where do you use it then? And where can you purchase it (book-shops, internet, libraries,...)? I can't imagine I'd use it, but then a year ago, I didn't know what an e-reader looked like and now I'm using it frequently. So, would you be so kind to drag me into modern times and fill me in on audio-books?

Well, you're not the first one to admire my discipline, but I'm not sure if I deserve it yet :-) I've still to prove my worthiness. But being swamped by all those great recommendations, I thought it would be a good idea to try to find a method to deal with it. So now, when I go to the book-shop or library, I always choose at least one European book and one global book. The rest is for surprises, which I also like. So far, I like this method, because it makes me look forward to books which I know are coming up soon. And if I want to cheat, I can always fall back on my surprise-books. I guess being an archiving historian makes me a bit more (overly) organized than others :-).
Besides, trying to find "The National Book" is fun either. I'm already looking forward to my Icelandic choice, which is coming up after the Irish book (with Afghanistan and Algeria in between).
This new "Reading Through Time" group really looks interesting to the archiving historian. I'll look into it and probably will join. I actually had started with a reading-plan to read a book of each century myself (and squeeze in another plan), but joining a group is much more fun.
Thanks for the recommendation and for your welcome.

Editado: Jun 14, 2010, 11:26 am

I use audio books, because I seem to be in the car a lot, and I get tired of listening to the songs on the radio station. At home I tend to listen to NPR (National Public Radio) which is a talk radio station that hits on a lot of topics. But I cannot listen to them in the car as well as at home for some strange reason.

My audio books come from the library. I don't buy them, because I only listen to them once, but you can buy them at books stores. They come in CD form, and are usually 4-12 CD's per book depending on the length of the book (years ago they were as cassette tapes).

What I have to be careful about is not getting the abridged form of audio books which is where parts are cut out. I prefer the unabridged so that I at least feel like I've 'read' the entire book.

Jun 14, 2010, 12:57 pm

I'm pondering a category of Nordic classics for my 11-11 Challenge next year, and Salka Valka is one of my Icelandic candidates. It's been on my shelf for ages, but I never got around to reading it. Looking forward to reading what you think of it!

Jun 14, 2010, 2:31 pm

#12 That makes sense. We don't have audiobooks in our local library and I don't think the larger ones have them either, but I'll check and see if I like them. They're just not popular here yet, but I guess it's a matter of time. I see Project Gutenberg has some free ones I can try out.
Hurray if i do, because it would add to my reading-time :-)

#13 I'll keep you posted! Although it's a rather long book,I should get round to it by next year :-) I'd never heard of this book before, but I searched for "Iceland" on LT and found Laxness who's also a Nobel Prize winner. There's really no end to learning about books here on LT.

Jun 14, 2010, 3:51 pm

I've seen quite a few people here talk about him as their favourite Nobel prize winner, even - but I have yet to read Laxness myself.

Jun 14, 2010, 4:21 pm

I notice many people on LT use audio-books. Over here, it's not familiar yet. How, when and where do you use it then?

Where is "over here"?

I live in Western Canada, and get my audiobooks from the library. Sometimes I check out the actual CDs, but more often I download them from the library website. I like to play them on my kitchen computer when I know I'll be spending lots of time there (like when I clean out and organize my cupboards), and I also put them on my iPod and listen to them when I garden or go for walks.

Jun 14, 2010, 4:31 pm

# 16 "If it's tuesday, this must be Belgium" (though not for another 1,5 hour). Hmmm, cleaning, gardening and walking ... works for me!

Editado: Jun 15, 2010, 5:56 am

Re Laxness, I read Independent People a couple of years ago and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I have World Light waiting in the pile.

Fixed touchstones.

Jun 16, 2010, 12:32 am

I'm reading A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle for Ireland, as I thought this was the more relevant book about Ireland. I like it so far, it's quite unusual.

Jun 16, 2010, 8:41 am

#18 I've just added Independent People to my wishlist - LT is so good for expanding my reading horizons... I've never read any Roddy Doyle either...

Jun 16, 2010, 1:47 pm

I'm already looking forward to reading Salka Valka and enjoying A Star called Henry. I needed this one (even if it's rough around the edges) after all the sadness of Afghanistan and Algeria on my global read, . At least Doyle has a weird sense of humour, something lacking in the other books, but then there isn't much to be laughed with there. How very sad.

Jun 17, 2010, 6:51 pm

A Star Called Henry is the first of a trilogy. The third book has just been released and has been getting good reviews. I want to reread A Star Called Henry soon.

Editado: Jun 21, 2010, 2:28 pm

2. Ireland
I have finished A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle.

Although this isn't the kind of book I usually read, I'm very glad I did. It's about a poor Irish kid who becomes a gunman for the IRA and tries to find his father after his disappearance. I think Doyle did an excellent job on portraying the life of this man. Although the story is very hard, very depressing and scary, he manages to put a spark, energy and humour to it that make it exceptional. It might have been easier to read if I'd known more about Irish history before I started reading the book, but it didn't stop me from enjoying it. Recommended, but only if you can stand the violence and rather explicit scenes. I may read the other two books of the trilogy later (thanks Ridgeway Girl!).

Now I'm off to Iceland to read Salka Valka. I hope it's a bit less bloody and more peaceful...

Editado: Jun 26, 2010, 7:44 am

I've just finished A Charming Mass Suicide (in Dutch translation from the Finnish Hurmaava joukkoitsemurha) by Arto Paasilinna. It's a very humorous book (despite the title) about two men who bump into each other when they want to commit suicide. They decide to look for other people who want to commit suicide in order to kill themselves in a more dignified way. They end up in a bus, travelling from Finland to the North Cape, determined to go ahead with their plan and drive off the Cape, but they always find a reason to postpone it. They end up in Portugal where the whole plan is left behind when they discover that most of them now have found a reason to live. This was a lovely in-between-book with hilarious situations and characters. On a second, deeper level, it shows that despair and depression are often due to special circumstances and loneliness which is temporary and that things can change for the good rather rapidly. It's not Great Literature but quite heart-warming.
I'm not adding this as my Finnish entry for this challenge, because I want to reserve this for "Greater Literature", but it is a nice read.

edited to fix touchstones

Jun 26, 2010, 3:10 pm

3. Iceland
Salka Valka by Halldór Kiljan Laxness

What a beautiful book! 9 year old Salka arrives with her mother in a small coastal village in Iceland in the 1930s. The mother is trying to build a new life for her and her daughter, but while the older woman is weak, Salka is trying to find her own way and create her own opportunities in the small community. Salka is a real character who witnesses how her mother gets carried away by the Salvation Army and throws herself in the arms of a low-life, sees how the poor are depending on the wealthy Bogesen who owns the fish-industry and the shop, how both the minister and the doctor are indifferent to the fate of the people and how people react when they are faced with their problems of every-day-life.

The second part of the book deals with the reality of the introduction of communism in Iceland and more specifically in the small community. Actually, it is not so much a story of the clash between capitalism and communism. which would have been so easy, but rather the clash between opportunism, realism, idealism, love and weakness which make it a great story. Laxness introduces so many great characters that are so realistic, so human. Although the story never leaves the small village and Salka is always the centre, you get the feeling it is the story of a whole world which is told here.

Definitely one of my best reads of 2010 and highly recommended.

I'm leaving Iceland reluctantly as I'd love to read more by Laxness, but "duty calls" :-), I'm off to Denmark...

Jun 26, 2010, 6:29 pm

Thanks for those reviews - especially Salka Valka which does sound very interesting. I read lots of the Icelandic sagas as a student, but I've not read anything more recent from Iceland, so it's good to have some recommendations like this to look out for.

Jun 27, 2010, 4:52 pm

Both are going on my wishlist. Great reviews. I hope I can find the Finnish translated into English.

Jun 28, 2010, 10:55 am

Yea! I found the book in English at my library titled:
Salka Valka : a novel of Iceland

There is a general note to the catalog record saying that the English version was translated via the Danish by Gunnar Gunnarson and that 'The present edition, translated from the Danish {by F.H. Lyon}, has been revised by the author.'

Thanks for the great review.

Jun 28, 2010, 2:15 pm

Hi, Genny, Patrick and Nans, if you do read Salka Valka, I hope you'll like it as much as I did. I'd be interested to read what you think of it.

Jun 28, 2010, 5:37 pm

It's definitely on for next year. Thanks for a great review!

Jun 29, 2010, 8:53 pm

Yep, I've added it to my wishlist as well.

Jul 8, 2010, 10:17 am

just picked it up from the library

Jul 11, 2010, 4:11 pm

4. Denmark : Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg.
A smart but socially handicapped and angry female lead, a murder, a male sidekick, a failed father, lots of leads, suspicion and suspense in an desolate surrounding... does that sound familiar? No, I'm not talking about Stieg Larsson but of a book that was published in 1992.
I wasn't really impressed with the book: too many characters that didn't come to life, too many flashbacks, too many feelings that weren't explained, too many facts and so little reasons to keep me interested. I liked the background-information on Greenland, but after a while, it all became a bit too black and white and I really can't think why Smilla had to be so troubled all the time.
Well, you can't enjoy them all. Up to Norway!

Jul 16, 2010, 4:34 pm

5. Norway: Berlin Poplars by Anne B. Ragde.
Now here's a book that surprised me! Although it dealt with a lot of grief, sorrow and secrets, it was light-hearted and heart-warming. I read it's part of a trilogy and now I'm determined to read the second one as well (only to read the third if the second one convinces me too). It's about three brothers, their father and a daughter who come together when their mother dies. The interaction, the characterization, the descriptions are lovely. It even changed my thoughts on pigs... Maybe not the most intellectual literature, but highly recommended.

Jul 18, 2010, 1:45 pm

6. Sweden: Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson.
My sentimental part liked the book, but my rational side kept shouting at me: "Cliché, flat characters, the author made a list of everything that could go wrong in a woman's life, split it up over two characters, summed them up as flashbacks and put a sauce of landscape, nature and sentiment over it". I know, it sounds nasty but that's how my rational side reacted. Too many threads that weren't picked up, too easy a setting to work out. It didn't surprise me to read that the author had written it as a result of a novel-writing-course she took. Well, I liked it as a fluff (chick-lit) read for a lazy and hot sunday but it's not the kind of book that makes me feel "wow" anymore. But don't feel sorry for me, it makes me appreciate the ones I like even better.

Jul 20, 2010, 3:53 pm

Well, you are making rapid progress round Scandinavia on your European tour, Monica!

I've added Berlin Poplars to my wishlist, I like the sound of that, and I'm looking out for books by Norwegian authors as I'm visiting Norway in August for the first time.

I think I'll give Astrid and Veronika a miss, though!

Jul 20, 2010, 4:00 pm

# Well yes, it seems I have been reading a lot lately which surprises me :-).
Maybe you'd like Astrid and Veronika, so don't write it off because of my personal opinion. Part of me (the sentimental part) and a lot of other people really liked it...
You're so lucky to go to Norway soon. Are you going to travel around?

Jul 20, 2010, 4:03 pm

No, I'll be based in Stavanger, staying with an old school friend. But we may get out and about a bit, or maybe I'll borrow her car while she is working. Haven't really planned anything yet: I'd better start talking to her about it again, as I leave in 2 weeks!

Editado: Ago 14, 2010, 1:03 pm

7. Finland : Waar we ooit liepen / (Where Once We Walked) by Kjell Westö.
This is a beautiful book. The setting which is described is interesting enough: Helsinki during the first part of the 20th century, the first World War, the impact of the civil war between the Reds and the Whites, the gay twenties with the introduction of jazz, alcohol-prohibition, the introduction of modern age,...
Unlike many other books where characters are merely "results" of their time or upbringing who must "fit the story", Westö manages to create wonderful characters who not only have their own, complex personality, but he lets them grow up and evolve, influenced by the time they are living in, by interacting with the society they live in or oppose to, by confronting them with their friends and their family-background.
While you get a great insight in life in Helsinki, it's far more subtle and universal than a description of this society because the characters aren't placed there merely as metaphors, but they have their own psychological development as well: hope, fear, strenght, courage, weakness, despair, love, pride, ... it's all there. The beautiful and fluent writing-style of the author adds to the magic of this book.
With this book, Kjell Westö deservedly won the Finlandia Prize in 2006. It's a book you cannot help but fall in love with. It slightly reminded me of the atmosphere of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, but then a lot more intricate and subtle. Highly recommended and one of my best reads of 2010.

Ago 13, 2010, 3:25 am

I second your feelings about Astrid and Veronika. It annoyed the heck out of me. Listening to it as an audio book read by the author herself, voice trembling from the oh so profound wisdom and beauty of her own words didn't help either.

Ago 13, 2010, 8:14 am

There seem to be some unusual parallels in my reading. I'm in the middle of Purge by Sofi Oksanen. It's also about two women, one old, one young with a lot on their plate, but the difference from Astrid and Veronika couldn't be bigger. I'll write my review when I finish it, but I already can say that the first half of Purge is so much better, so much more interesting than A&V.

Ago 13, 2010, 3:44 pm

I spotted that on your profile just today, and guess what - I'm right behind you! I'm also reading Utrensning (Purge), but only about 80 pages in. I already have a book by Oksanen - (Stalins kossor) as my Estonian choice, but I have a hunch I'll like this one better. Plus it's good to have a choice available in english, of course. Looking forward to your review!

Ago 14, 2010, 2:45 am

# 42 - Keep reading, Anders, I think it's worth the while! My review will be up shortly.

Ago 14, 2010, 4:47 am

Liking it a lot so far, yes!

Ago 14, 2010, 1:01 pm

8. Estonia: Purge by Sofi Oksanen

This is the story of Aliide Truu, an Estonian old woman, who finds the young, desperate Zara at her doorstep. Reluctantly, she takes her in but it soon becomes clear that both have their own deep, dark secrets and both are afraid of what the other might be or might do.
Slowly, the history of both Aliide and Zara unravels: Aliide isn't simply the sweet, pitiful old lady who cares for her fruit and herbs. After the war, she did nothing to prevent her sister Ingel and niece from being deported because of Ingel's husband Paul who went into hiding after having sympathized with the Germans. Aliide, while being married to Martin, a communist, kept Paul in hiding, hoping he would fall in love with her. Now, she's a widow and alone.
When Zara shows up, she's very afraid the truth about her past may come out.

Zara has her own problems. She's the grand-daughter of Ingel and has fallen into the hands of sex-trafficking men. While visiting Estonia, she manages to flee to her great-aunt's house.

The story is told very psychologically. A lot happens but it's all seen and told through the eyes of Aliide who's very reticent and Zara who's traumatized by the brutal sex-abuse. In between, there are diary-fragments from Paul.

Although this story has a lot to offer, I think the story of Zara was one too many and not really necessary to add to Aliide's story. Sometimes it felt a bit overdone with too many explicit scenes of sex-abuse and violence. I also think that the end, however brilliant in itself, was presented too fast and a bit over the top, especially if you take into consideration the pace in which the first two thirds of the book were presented. Also, the book would have benefited from creeping into the head of Ingel herself instead of her grand-daughter who was too ignorant to really add to Aliide's story.

So, all in all, this book has some flaws but it's still brilliant enough to make this one of my better reads of 2010 and recommend it to anyone who's willing to make the effort of reading every single word of this book very carefully, as every word is important.

Ago 14, 2010, 2:33 pm

Hmm..that's the second review of Purge that I've come across today. I'll have to take a close look at it.

Ago 16, 2010, 5:07 pm

9. Latvia: Barnsteen by Guido Van Heulendonk
Flemish writers seem to have a tendency to choose depressed, frustrated young males for their main characters. This book is no exception. Dorian, the Flemish 30-something son of a right-wing politician and a left-wing poetress, tries to come to terms with the suicide of his mother. We find out he's at sick-leave because of an apparent depression when he decides to go to Latvia to find out about his mother's lover. In Latvia, he gets to know a student-guide Ineta, much like "Natalie" in Gilbert Becaud's song. She tells him about Latvia and its history. They end up in the hotel, the former Lieven family estate Mežotne, where his mother is supposed to have had her affair and where he tries to resist to fall in love himself. He then goes back to Belgium but returns later that year to Latvia to execute his plans.
The book is laden with cryptic information of Belgian politics (which probably should give it a feeling of topicality), Latvian history (but too little to really be worthwhile), Dorothea Lieven (who's supposed to have had an important role in creating Belgium, although I'd never heard of her, but again, too cryptic and little to be interesting). The story itself is flimsy, misty and a bit dreary although there's nog doubt the author knows how to write. He does a wonderful job, but unfortunately it feels as if his story let him down. There is far too much information that doesn't stick together, too many details that do not lead to anything, promising threads that aren't worked out properly, although it may ofcourse have been the author's intention as a way of emphasizing the confusion of Dorian. Maybe the merit of this book to me is that it has enticed me to read more about this Dorothea Lieven and Latvia in general and to pursue other books by this author because I do like his writing-style.
Probably only available in Dutch, I'm afraid.

Ago 17, 2010, 6:07 pm

Just put up my review of Purge, which is one of the best reads this year for me also. I see your point about Zara, but to me the two storylines mirrored each other thematically in a way that really added something. Aliide's story is definitely more complex and original though.

Ago 18, 2010, 12:56 am

# And what a great review it is, Anders! Thanks also for drawing my attention to some sensitivities I hadn't really noticed yet.

Ago 19, 2010, 5:30 pm

I just love that you both read it at the same time and my library has a copy (although I'll have to wait for it to travel from another branch).

Ago 21, 2010, 4:13 pm

Hope you like it, RidgewayGirl!

Ago 21, 2010, 5:09 pm

11. Belarus: De werkplaats van de duivel (Chilly Land) by Jáchym Topol
Ok, I'm cheating a bit here, reading Belarus before Russia, but when I got the book from the library and started browsing, I just couldn't stop. I think Jáchym Topol wrote an excellent book.
In short it deals with the heartbreaking question of the moral aspect of commercially exploiting war-tourism and tourists who are emotionally vulnerable and traumatized. The main character grows up in Theresienstadt, the concentration camp north of Prague. When the town falls into decay, a survivor of the camp, Kops, is determined to save it. He is helped by the main character who just wants a place to live and by some foreign tourists who are emotionally involved and looking for some answers. Kops manages to raise funds which attract more tourists, much to the the dislike of the officials who are not happy with it. Eventually, Kops and his "commune" that is formed around him are defeated, but the main character is asked by a couple of Belarussians to come to their country and help develop tourism for their killing-fields which are far less known but involved much more people. They intend to start a museum in Chatyn called "the Devil's work-place" that should overshadow all other tourists-attractions of that sort. While Italy has the sea and the paintings, Thailand the sex and Holland the cheese and clogs, Belarus will have its horror-tourism. What follows is an incredible journey to the horrors of genocide-tourism.

In this book the reader is faced with the question if it's morally right to exploit this kind of tourism, but it also deals with the right and the reason of remembering the victims and their relatives. Do we really need to go all the way in showing the horrors, use oral history and mummification as part of reviving history?
I'm a historian myself and I live in "Flanders Fields" where I'm used to the many graveyards with victims from the first World War. I've also visited the Menin Gate in Ypres where The Last Post is held every evening lots of times. To me, the graveyards and the memorials are places to reflect on the horrors of war. But I have not visited the war museum because I do not need to see, hear, smell and feel the horror to know it was horrible. I'm reluctant to visit places like Theresienstadt because I'd feel like an intruder, a voyeur and I don't think it would make me a better person if I saw this with my own eyes. Maybe some people do need to see everything with their own eyes, but not me. I prefer a bit of reticence. It is very important to remember, but not at all costs. So, I'm very glad Jáchym Topol dared to write about the frenzy of war-tourism in all its aspects. Highly recommended.

Ago 23, 2010, 8:06 am

I think that we can pretty much all agree that places like battlefield sites or concentration camps should be preserved in a tasteful and respectful way, but what if the choice is between turning it into a theme park or forgetting it entirely?

Ago 27, 2010, 2:48 am

12. Lithuania: De schaduw van de slang (The Shadow of the snake) by Saulius T. Kondrotas
What a strange book. It had flashes of brilliance but also pages which were so boring and confusing, I just wondered if this book had been assembled correctly. It's the story of a family in Lithuania in the 19th and early 20th century. The best parts reminded me of Garcia Marquez, but all in all, after a blizzard-start, it turned out to be a huge disappointment. Whch is just as well, because I just started wondering if I was getting less critical, having read all these great books lately.

Set 9, 2010, 4:58 am

Ha! I know the feeling. You kind of feel like less of a reader if you don't put down books in disgust every now and then.

Out 4, 2010, 7:05 am

The Topol book sounds like a very interesting exploration of a difficult subject. You are making good progress round Europe! I haven't got very far with my literary journey...

Editado: Dez 13, 2010, 3:22 pm

14. Germany: Het eerste weekend / The Weekend by Bernhard Schlink
I had mixed feelings about this one. The book tells the story of a former RAF-terrorist who's pardoned after 20 years and spends his first free weekend with his sister and some other friends in a remote house in the country. At first I found the characters confusing as they were introduced rather rapidly. Then I thought the characters were a bit cliché: the loving sister, the rebellious type, the struggling man, etc. But halfway through I got the picture: this is more a book about thoughts, opinions and insights than a story in itself. Once you accept this, this book is really enjoyable and gives the reader plenty to think about. I'd recommend it to anyone who can live with my reservations.

Dez 13, 2010, 3:55 pm

I know Bernard Schlink wrote the successful The reader, but very little else. This sounds interesting, if perhaps not unconditionally so. Have you read anything else by him?

Dez 13, 2010, 4:14 pm

No, I haven't, but I intend to read The reader as well as it is believed to be his best book.

Dez 15, 2010, 3:38 pm

I started The Reader last year and for some reason stopped reading about 2/3 through. I don't think it was because I wasn't enjoying it - I do mean to get back to it, indeed these posts have reminded me I need to finish it someday! Good to hear your European tour is continuing; mine seems to have ground to a halt at present!

Editado: Dez 27, 2010, 2:57 pm

13. Poland: Over het doppen van bonen (A Treatise on Shelling Beans) by Wieslaw Mysliwski
This must be one of the strangest books I've read this year. It is one brilliant monologue of an older man in which he tells an anonimous visitor his random thoughts, memories, insights while shelling beans. Little by little we get to know the man and his own history which is also the history of the common man in Poland.

Sometimes I was a bit overwhelmed by the prose which went on and on and on. The book really grabbed me at times, e.g. when the man talked of the drunk music-teacher who conducted the orchestra in silence, or of the dependant pig that was a metaphor of his happy childhood, or of the man who taught him how to play the saxophone, or of the girl from the Red Cross who helped him during the war, or of his uncle who committed suicide. Through his eyes and mouth you sense there is more to these people and, you feel the sorrow, pain, hope, joy and happiness of the individual.
The monologue is not linear and jumps back and forth through time, creating this beautiful, epic image of an ordinary life which proves that no life is ordinary once you dig a bit deeper.
It's a book you should read slowly. It's probably not everybody's cup of tea as it is rather hermetic at times, but if you take the time and are ready to put in the effort, you'll certainly be rewarded.

Dez 27, 2010, 8:00 am

Sounds fascinating! I'll be sure to see if this one is available in Swedish or English.

Editado: Ago 5, 2011, 4:19 pm

I've slightly lost track of the right path a bit, but I've been travelling through Europe through these books:
Netherlands: De schilder en het meisje by Margriet de Moor
About the Dutch painter Rembrandt and the girl who was hanged and who he painted; Good, but not overwhelming.

Belgium: Zwarte tranen by Tom Lanoye
The second one of a trilogy and a bit of an-in-between-book.

France: Alles waar ik spijt van heb by Philippe Claudel
Breathtakingly beautiful book about a man who comes home after 16 years to bury his mother.

Spain: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Huge disappointment after all the praise I heard about this book.

Ago 6, 2011, 10:24 am

Portugal: Act of the Damned by António Lobo Antunes

A whirlwind of a book about a Portuguese family in the 1970's, gathering together by the death-bed of the patriarch of the family, when their own world of wealth as they knew it is falling apart. With a vivid street-party in the background, the family's own disasters are taking place. The strength and beauty of this book especially lies in the extraordinary way in which Antunes writes. E.g. when one person thinks, you follow his of her way of thinking to the extreme, with thoughts tumbling, falling over one another in turmoil and chaos. The storyline is not as important although it's biting and sarcastic as to emphasize the tone.
This was not an easy read but very rewarding in the end. If you like Garcia Marquez, you might give this one a try. It certainly is very different from anything I've read lately (and ever)...

Editado: Ago 6, 2011, 10:33 am

I've read quite a few Italian books earlier this year, so I won't read another for this challenge Instead I'll add one of my favourites:
Italy: XY by Sandro Veronesi - 4,5 stars

This is a fascinating book (published in Italy in 2010 and probably one of the better reads for me this year. The book starts off with what seems to be the setting of a detective-novel: a group of people is found brutally murdered in the woods near a small and remote hamlet in the Italian dolomites. The eyes of the world turn to the small community that is shocked and desperate about what has happened.
The story is told by two protagonists, a priest who wants to help his flock and wants to overcome the madness and insanity that slowly creeps in and a young psycho-analist who has left her overpowering boyfriend and wants to help the priest to cure the community. Despite their noble efforts, things evolve differently than expected.
This might have been a corny story with the traditional contrast between man-woman, faith-reason, old-young, city-hamlet, etc. It is not. Instead it is a very delicate, gentle, sensitive, thoughtful yet sometimes humorous, multi-layered story in which there's plenty of room for insightful thoughts and imagination.

Nov 18, 2011, 1:36 pm

Austria: De dag dat ze Jakob kwamen halen (Einer) by Norbert Gstrein

Jacob grows up in a small Austrian mountain-village where everyone lives off tourism, but as he doesn't seem to fit in, he starts to behave and be treated as a harmless lone-wolf, until eventually something happens.

My personal thoughts
This was an impressive book all throughout its 120-something pages. The story circles round the youth and memories surrounding Jacob and is told by his brother. We are left in the dark about what's really happened but it's obvious Jacob is different from the other villagers who earn their money with tourism. Jacob is not cut out for this kind of life and gradually becomes more isolated. The story made me think about the predestination of one's own life. About what it's like if you're born in a society that you don't feel comfortable in and if you don't have a chance to break away or if people continue to see you as "one of them" although you don't feel related to "them".
This definitely is a heavy yet subtle and thoughtful book that might not be appreciated by everyone, but is very rewarding if you're willing to take your time and give it some thought.

Nov 19, 2011, 2:34 am

I started to get bothered by the many gaps in my European challenge. So I decided to go back and meticulously fill in the blanks. Some were really hard to find, but I finally managed. Since I already know where to find the books, it's only a matter of time before I read them.

Dez 3, 2011, 12:50 pm

Russia: The Line by Olga Grushin

A husband, a wife and their son, each having their own reasons, wait in line to try to obtain a concert-ticket day after day, for months on end, along with hundreds of other people.

My personal thoughts
This book infallibly conveys the feeling of hope, despair and meekness that's typical of an oppressed society. It shows how bureaucracy is able to control people and make them do things a person normally wouldn't do, like waiting in line for weeks and weeks for an uncertain goal. However, I was slightly underwhelmed. The story never really grabbed me and neither did any of the characters. They remained too foggy, too distant and I didn't care about them (except maybe the mother of the wife). This book made me think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, at least the part in which Charlie's trying to get the golden ticket. It also reminded me of Quiet chaos in which the main character camps in his car outside his daughter's school for weeks on end. The difference with these books is that I remember I felt empathy for the main characters, something I never felt for these characters. I wouldn't call this book a miss, it's just that I prefer stories with delineated characters and/or a more gripping story. I guess if this had been a novella, it would have been ok with me.

Dez 8, 2011, 2:59 pm

Czech Republic: No Saints or Angels by Ivan Klima

A middle-aged dentist, her daughter and her boyfriend are trying to give meaning to their lives in Prague in the 1990s.

My personal thoughts
One of the great things about my European challenge (as well as the global one) is that I get to read books I would never have picked up otherwise. Most of the times, the books are ok because I do evaluate them a bit beforehand, but sometimes I find a book I'll gladly classify as a favourite. No Saints or Angels is one of them. I know the one-sentence-summary sounds awful and not very appealing but it's very misleading because it's actually a story told from three different points of view that gives insight into what life is all about, the insecurities, the search for happiness, the lies, self-esteem, confidence, trust, etc. It also deals with the history of a family and a country. Klima is a great writer. He manages to portray characters in a few lines and to convey the feelings that ordinary human beings have without being heavy-handed. There's no real beginning and no real ending to this story but there are so many thoughts and insights that make it wortwhile. It's a brilliant mixture of humour and food for thought and that's more than enough for me. Highly recommended if you like my kind of books.

Editado: Dez 10, 2011, 1:51 pm

Andorra: Andorra by Peter Cameron

A man moves to Andorra to start a new life, but what secret does he carry and who are the people who cross his path.

My personal thoughts
The story is set in the idyllic but fictionalized mini-state of Andorra (in reality landlocked in the Pyrenees between France and Spain, in this novel conveniently situated at the sea). The story slowly unwinds as the main character moves to Andorra and meets some people who influence his new life. It all leads to a climax that was interesting though a bit underwhelming. The beauty of this book primarily lies in the wonderful, dreamy setting and the elegant prose, minus points were the characters who were a bit too gimmicky, their stories a bit too plain and predictable. It felt as if the author forgot what he wanted to do with the story and suddenly decided to put an end to it. But all in all, a relaxing, enjoyable read.

Dez 11, 2011, 3:01 pm

Wow, you managed to find an Andorra-book. Impressive! And a great tip too!

Editado: Dez 18, 2011, 3:43 pm

Hungary: De nacht voor de scheiding (Válás Budán) by Sandor Marai

This book, first published in 1935, deals with 12 hours in the life of a middle-aged Hungarian judge who prepares to settle the divorce of an acquaintance and his wife he briefly met years ago. In the first part of the book, we get to know the judge, his life, his history and his formal way of thinking, in the second part, we see his encounter with his acquaintance, a doctor, who pays him a nightly visit.
Basically this book deals with the universal themes of ratio vs. feelings, old vs. new, man vs. woman. Marai wraps this up in beautiful prose and razor-sharp observation which turn this book into a brilliant psychological novel. Highly recommended.

Jun 13, 2012, 2:08 pm

Georgia: De eindeloze zee (La mer noire) by Kéthévane Davrichewy (2010)

On her 90th birthday, Tamouna looks back at her life. She left Georgia when Russia invaded the country and went to Paris with her parents and sister. There, she joins other Georgian ex-pats and leads a life with ups and downs.
I was underwhelmed by the rather simple and fast way in which the story was told but I liked this book because of the mild melancholy that was present on every page.

Jan 7, 2013, 1:32 pm

Slovenia: De nieuwkomers (The Newcomers) by Lojze Kovacic (1984)

This book is a literary autobiography by a Slovenian writer who was born in Switzerland but who, as a 10-year old, had to move to Slovenia with his Slovenian father and his French-German mother and the rest of the family. His father hadn't applied for Swiss citizenship in time and the family was expelled before World War II. This book deals with the migration and the feelings of loss, despair, hopelessness, the hostility, etc. which was touching and impressive.
Although it was written in a beautiful style, I had a problem with this book. The author uses the point of view of a 10-year-old but the way that boy observes things does not correspond with a 10-year-old's mind. It's obvious that the author has added his adult thoughts to the boy's impressions and IMO, that did not feel right. So, I'm having mixed feelings about this book. It probably won't finish on my list of memorable reads of 2013.

Jan 15, 2013, 12:58 pm

Monaco: Plus belle sera la vie by Stéphane Bern (2007)

In this fictionalized biography, Stéphane Bern digs deep into the personal life of Marie Blanc, wife of François Blanc. This dynamic couple put Monaco on the map: in the 19th century the prince of Monaco agreed to let the Blancs build a casino, hotel de Paris and other amenities that brought the wealthy and their money to Monaco. The Blanc-family became one of the wealthiest in Europe.
The Marie Blanc that is portrayed in this book is based on the real Marie Blanc. Born into a a large family of shoemakers, she caught the eye of the wealthy widow François Blanc, a casino-director in Bad Homburg. More than 25 years her senior, he let her get a proper education before he married her. Marie was a down-to-earth woman who was totally committed to her husband, their three children and the obligations that went with her status.
The author tells the story mainly from Marie's point-of view. She lives in a sophisticated, glamorous world so the pages are filled with opulence and luxury. Historical facts and figures give the book an authentic feel, but when looking closer into the real history of Marie Blanc, it appears that the author has slightly changed her biography although I can't see why he did that. The real Marie Blanc's life seems interesting enough.
This would have been an amazing biography if the author had kept to the facts and included his sources. Now it's a delightful, very enjoyable piece of fiction.

Jan 15, 2013, 1:53 pm

I see you still have Malta to do - I received lots of suggestions for books about Malta/set in Malta last year when I was going there on holiday, so let me know if you need any ideas for that one...

Jan 15, 2013, 2:08 pm

Thanks, Genny. I already have The information officer by Mark Mills for Malta (hey, an alliteration!). I had to wait till it was available at the library that I only go to every so often when my usual library does not have the book I want. I'll see if it works out. If not, I may need your help.

Maio 29, 2014, 12:48 pm

The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth (AT, 1932) - 4 stars

Nov 16, 2014, 2:02 pm

Romania: Nadirs by Herta Müller

I have finished Nadirs and I was glad it was finished. Herta Müller is definitely not one of my favourite writers. Although she is a great writer, I simply don't like her style. It's too dense, too hermetic for my taste and I cannot relate to this style.

Jan 3, 2015, 2:39 pm

Bulgaria: The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman (1971)
I read this book in an attempt to continue my tour through Europe which I want to finish this year. I'd started some books about Bulgaria in the past, but they all were so grim. So when I came across this book with Mrs. Pollifax in a leading role and Bulgaria as her destination, I didn't hesitate, although it completely goes against my intentions to preferably read a book by a native author. But who cares?
The story is quite simple. Mrs. Pollifax is sent to Bulgaria to deliver eight passports to people who want to leave the country. But by chance, she's a witness to the abduction of a young American and risks everything to rescue him.

This is a somewhat old-fashioned, over the top spy-novel with major inconsistencies but that didn't bother me at all. I immensely enjoyed the company of Mrs. Pollifax and her down to earth ways. I hope this book may set the tone for a year of enjoyable reading.

Dez 20, 2016, 2:00 pm

I have been neglecting this thread for too long, especially since I only have four more countries to visit: Malta, Cyprus, Macedonia and Croatia.
I intend to finish my European tour in 2017.

Nov 7, 2021, 3:01 am

Croatia: On the Edge of Reason by Miroslav Krleža (1938)

When a settled man in his fifties almost accidentally accuses a prominent politician of being a murderer (which he actually is), the consequences are dire. Although he is given several opportunities to admit his "mistake", he decides to resolutely choose honesty from now on and give up his hypocritical existence. Within a week, the group turns against him and he loses all the foundations on which he has built his life.
This sometimes funny, sometimes poignant story is told from the point of view of the protagonist who is ostracized from the group. He is a somewhat strange figure, where it is not clear whether he actually wants to be consistent or suffers from some form of madness. Because through his encounters with others, you get the impression that there is more going on. Or is the peer pressure so great that the individual is crushed anyway.
Despite the fact that it has a limited storyline, I really liked this relatively short novel.