Posted by: koolwine | December 27, 2017

Vanuatu: Tales from the Torrid Zone

In this scattershot travelogue, British journalist Alexander Frater gushes anecdotes about tropical locales like lava gushes from a volcano. Many of these tales concern Vanuatu, a group of islands in the South Pacific that boast the birthplace of bungee jumping; inspiration for James Michener’s Bali Ha’i; a giant World War II U.S. military dump; and a mysterious lake rumored to transmit faraway images.    

Country Focus: Vanuatu (previously the New Hebrides)

Tales from the Torrid Zone: Travels in the Deep Tropics
By Alexander Frater
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
384 pgs.

Genre: Travelogue

About the author:  Frater’s connection to Vanuatu began with his grandfather Maurice, who served as a missionary on the island of Paama. Frater was born on the island of Iririki, where his father opened a hospital and his mother built two schools. He’s made several television documentaries and written several other books, the most recent being The Balloon Factory: The Story Of The Men Who Built Britain’s First Flying Machines.

World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)

Alexander Frater


Mostly, [Maurice, Frater’s grandfather] just told stories – a favorite being about the night seven new volcanoes erupted on Ambrym. From Paama, a few miles away, Maurice witnessed “a display of fireworks such as is given to few mortals to behold.” (One appeared in the grounds of the mission hospital run by his friend Dr. Bowie; as Bowie ran for his life “fragments of his house and hospital” roared skywards in a column of compressed steam that rose twenty thousand feet in less than a minute.) Maurice summoned Mr. Roxburgh and Herr Grube, local traders who owned cargo launches, then, boarding his own flimsy whaler, led Paama’s mercy mission off through choppy seas.

Approaching Ambrym’s exploding coast, blizzards of hot ash and cinders engulfed them. Moving through a slurry of dead fish and steaming pumice, they saw fiery rock bombs and fragments of Pele’s hair (spun glass) while lava flows tossed trees in the air – visible in the light of the molten magma surging along beneath. Lava entering the sea made it boil. Choking on sulfurous smoke while steering for a beach crammed with refugees, they had to ride scalding tidal waves – a mile offshore an eighth volcano was rising.

Posted by: koolwine | December 9, 2017

Saint Kitts and Nevis: A State of Independence

After twenty years in England, Bertram Francis returns home to an unnamed Caribbean island on the verge of the its independence from Great Britain. It’s not easy to slip back into his old life. His family, friends, and the island itself have changed in ways that make it difficult for him to feel at home. 

Country Focus: Saint Kitts and Nevis

A State of Independence
By Caryl Phillips
Published by Collier Books, 1986.
158 pgs.

Genre: Fiction

About the author: Born in St. Kitts and raised in England, Phillips has authored many award-winning novels, including A Distant Shore and Dancing in the Dark. He currently teaches English at Yale.

World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)


Caryl Phillips

‘England is where you belong now. Things have changed too much for you to have any chance of fitting back, so why you don’t return to the place where you know how the things are? You coming on here like a fool, just dropping by Government House and so on.’

Bertram looked at him, but still he said nothing.

‘You English West Indians should just come back here to retire and sit in the sun. Don’t waste your time trying to get into the fabric of the society for you’re made of the wrong material for the modern Caribbean. You all do think too fast and too crazy, like we should welcome you back as lost brothers. Well, you may be brothers alright, but you lost for true for you let the Englishman fuck up your heads.’





Posted by: koolwine | October 22, 2017

Ecuador: The Queen of Water

When she is only seven years old, María Virginia Farinago’s destitute parents send her away to be a servant for a wealthy mestizo family. Maria is Quichua, an ethnicity that the ruling mestizos have long treated as an inferior race. She dreams of escape from her abusive employer, but the longer she stays with the mestizos, the more returning to a life of poverty becomes unthinkable. Now that she’s trapped between two worlds, how can she forge a new life for herself?

Country Focus: Ecuador

The Queen of Water
By Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinago
Published by Delacorte Press, 2011.
352 pgs.

Genre: Novel based on a true story

About the author: Laura Resau has written eight books for children and young adults that draw on her experiences as a traveler and ESL teacher in Mexico, Ecuador, France, and Guatemala. She met María Virginia Farinago, an indigenous Quichua woman, when she was teaching at a community college in Ecuador. The two women decided to collaborate on writing Farinago’s incredible history, a project which became The Queen of Water. Farinago went on to run successful Andean arts business. She has since earned a masters degree in psychology, and is now a practicing psychologist.

World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)

Maria Virginia Farinago and Laura Resau


I think of the elementary school diploma the Doctorita promised. How can I throw that away? And what if my parents don’t even want me back? Or what if they do, and I never see Jaimito and Andrecito and Niño Carlitos again? What if my parents force me to live in their dirty house without rice or meat or books or a TV? What if Papito still beats my mother? What if he tries to beat me? He’s much stronger than the Doctorita. I look at the scars on my legs from when Papito whipped me as I dangled from the rafters. The scars have faded a little, but I doubt they’ll ever disappear.

I take one last look at the phone booth through the window of Don Luciano’s store. My nose isn’t throbbing as much now, and the swelling will probably go down in a few days, and the welts from the hangers will fade in a week – a small price to pay for a diploma and a house full of books and weekly MacGyver access. I fold the worn paper with Matilde’s phone number on it, turn away from the shop and trudge home.

A scene flashes in my head: MacGyver telling the slaves, “Go, you’re free!” and the slaves just standing and staring. I understand why. Fear feels familiar. And freedom feels terrifying.

Posted by: koolwine | September 24, 2017

Free Books! (Round 17)

For every ten books I read, I’ll hold a book giveaway. Here’s how to claim a free book:

  • Check out the list of books up for grabs.  There is only one copy of each book available (I am giving away my used copy of each book).
  • If you see one you want, comment on this page.  Your comment must include the name of the book you want, and at least a word or two about the country that the book concerns.  First person to comment gets the book.
  • I’ll mail the book out to you (at no cost you you whatsoever) if you have an address within the continental United States.  The book will ship out at book rate, which means it might take ten or more days to reach you.
  • Keep in mind that most of the time I buy my books used, which means they may be marked up, covers bent, etc.  Book condition will be variable.
  • Claims must be made no later than one week after posting date. October 1, 2017 is the deadline for requesting a book from Round 17.

Here’s the current round of books up for grabs:

Posted by: koolwine | September 16, 2017

Grenada: Angel

Written almost entirely in the vernacular, Angel is the story of an ordinary Grenadian family whose members are drawn into the political intrigue of the Grenada Revolution.         

Country Focus: Grenada

By Merle Collins
Published by Seal Press, 1987.
294 pgs.

Genre: Fiction

About the author: Collins actively supported Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement’s revolution in Grenada. Currently an English professor at the University of Maryland, Collins has written three volumes of poetry, two collections of short stories, and a second novel, The Color of Forgetting.

World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)

Merle Collins


‘Mammie, lissen. Is not covetous I covetous. The lan couldn’t be mine because I too black for one, an is white people that own lan because is them that did have slave in this country. If I was high brown I might ah have white backgroun dat leave lan give me or I might ah be able to get big job, but it din work out so. People like you an me so, the harder we work in people kitchen and in people lan, the more we kill weself out and bring riches, is the poorer we get while we sweat goin in other people pocket.’

Posted by: koolwine | August 20, 2017

Chad: A Teenager in the Chad Civil War

To avoid being killed during Chad’s civil war, fourteen-year-old Ésaïe Toïngar leaves his village to join a group of rebel soldiers. He’d much rather be continuing his schoolwork, and worries constantly about possibility of being forced to kill somebody.

Country Focus: Chad

A Teenager in the Chad Civil War: A Memoir of Survival, 1982-1986
By Ésaïe Toïngar
Published by McFarland & Company, 2006.
224 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the author:  Toïngar entered the United States in 1999 as a refugee. He and his family currently live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he is an electrical information engineer. The former child soldier has founded a nonprofit group, Wake Up for Your Rights!, whose mission is to promote peace and justice in Africa.

Esaie Toingar


A few days later, I was selected for a group that would go on patrol. I was sad to go and fight against the innocents who were hiding in the bush to protect themselves or had concealed themselves as CODOs fighting for a just cause. For the sake of our innocent people who were being killed, I had asked God not to allow me to kill. I remembered that during our time with the Green-CODOs in the maquis, we had learned an important military rule: the authority that gives soldiers the order to kill someone or to do something is responsible for the consequences of the soldiers’ actions. If I killed someone, therefore, it was not really I but the officer who gave the order who did the killing. On the other hand, my religious conviction did not allow me to kill someone, because it was said in the commandments of Moses, “you shall not kill.” So I could not rely on the military rule for spiritual justification.

Posted by: koolwine | July 9, 2017

Monaco: Grace of Monaco

This is not only a story of how Grace Kelly, a Philadelphia girl, became a movie star and then a princess, but also a compelling portrait of Prince Rainier III, the fairy tale-couple’s children: Caroline, Albert and Stephanie, and the country of Monaco. 

Country Focus: Monaco

Grace of Monaco
By Jeffrey Robinson
Originally published as Rainier and Grace: An Intimate Portrait in 1989
My edition: De Capo Press, 2014.
340 pgs.

Genre: Biography

About the author:  Robinson, a best-selling American author with 30 books to his credit, specializes in covering financial crime. He lived in the south of France for over a decade and befriended Princess Grace and her family. Grace of Monaco was based on firsthand interviews with Princess Grace, Prince Rainier III and their three children.

World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)

Jeffrey Robinson


While on a visit to Houston, Texas, Rainier was taken to a football game at the Astrodome, the nine-acre, climate-controlled, covered stadium that seats just over fifty thousand.

As he gazed around at this engineering feat, his host wondered, “How would you like to have this in Monaco?”

Without skipping a beat, Rainier answered, “It would be marvelous. We could be the world’s only indoor country.”

Posted by: koolwine | June 28, 2017

Slovenia: Forbidden Bread

In this fish-out-of-water memoir, an American woman and a Slovenian poet fall madly in love. She makes a rash decision to accept his marriage proposal and move to Slovenia, a brand new country that has just gained its independence from communist Yugoslavia.

Country Focus: Slovenia

Forbidden Bread
By Erica Johnson Debeljak
Published by North Atlantic Books, 2009.
281 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the author: Debeljak grew so proficient in Slovenian that she has published six books in her adopted language. Her beloved husband Aleš, one of Slovenia’s most celebrated poets, died in a car crash in 2016.

World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)

Erica Johnson Debeljak


Stepping into the foyer of Tanja’s apartment, I am shocked to discover no discernible difference in air temperature between inside and out. The building lacks central heating, a not unusual state of affairs in Slovenia in 1993 and certainly not a sign of poverty or hardship, still less a reason for complaint. Only the living room is heated, by a tall wood-burning ceramic stove in the corner that needs to be loaded and stoked from time to time. The door between the kitchen and living room remains open, at least while cooking is underway; otherwise all the doors in the two bedroom apartment are kept firmly shut to prevent the passage of cold air into warm rooms, warm air into cold. A basket of fuel and small kindling nestles between the ceramic stove and the couch. Aleš, shoes and parka off, guest slippers on, assumes the pasha position on the couch, his eyes drifting slowly closed, weary after his exertions with his snowwoman. I step into the unheated bathroom for a pee and can hardly get up again, the cheeks of my bare bottom adhering momentarily to the frigid toilet seat.

Posted by: koolwine | June 18, 2017

Comoros: Last of the Pirates

A British journalist travels to the Comoros in an attempt to unravel the mystery behind who killed President Abdallah in 1989 – was it the legendary French mercenary, Bob Denard?

Country Focus: Comoros

Last of the Pirates: The Search for Bob Denard
By Samantha Weinberg
Published by Jonathan Cape, 1994.
257 pgs.

Genre: Nonfiction

About the author:  As well as penning two other works of nonfiction, Weinberg has also published The Moneypenny Diaries, a trilogy about the adventures of James Bond’s “Miss Moneypenny,” under the pseudonym Kate Westbrook.  She is currently a British Green Party politician and uses her married name, Samantha Fletcher.

World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)

Samantha Weinberg


‘My [Patrick Ollivier’s] motive in joining Denard was insane curiosity. I had served for five hard years in Rhodesia and when I finished I wanted to join Denard. At that stage, I would have gone to the North Pole to serve him. You must understand, he had this tremendous reputation. But it was all a myth. I went there to “ride the tiger” but I ended up with a pussycat. For the other men it was an adventure. They had nothing in common with each other, they were all there for different reasons, federated by Denard for a certain period of time. After my first week in the Comoros, I understood what it was all about: it was about the worst aspects of French mentality. There was no rigor. After Rhodesia, it was like Club Med for me. As for regrets? No, but I wonder if I could have done something better. There was so much mediocrity there.  Abdallah was a tropical dictator – not the worst, no, but he had a complex about coming from slave blood. Denard too had a complex about his origins: he blamed them for his failure to climb the ranks in the navy.

‘People are always looking for conspiracies, but in the Comoros there was no great plot, no conspiracy involving the French Secret Services or any other group. To work out what happened, one has only to look at the individual personalities involved and to demystify them. Look at Denard and at Abdullah and you will understand what happened.’

Posted by: koolwine | June 10, 2017

Samoa: Where We Once Belonged

The coming-of-age-story of a thirteen-year-old Samoan girl presents an often unsettling look at violence and sexuality in her Pacific Island community.  

Country Focus: Samoa

Where We Once Belonged
By Sia Figiel
Originally published by Pasifika Press in New Zealand, 1996.
My edition: Kaya Press, 2007.
247 pgs.

Genre: Fiction

About the author: Samoa’s first female novelist, Figiel has published two additional novels and two poetry collections. Where We Once Belonged, written in the traditional Samoan storytelling form of su’ifefiloi, or “stringing together flowers,” won the 1997 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for fiction.

World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)

Sia Figiel


Being beaten up is alofa – real love. Real love is when children are beaten up bad by their parents. Teach the child while he’s a child so that he will know when he becomes a man. This is in the bible. This, too, is written in the earth at Malaefou. To beat a child is to give her respect, to teach her how to behave, to teach her to be humble, to listen, to obey, to love her.

A parent (a father especially) did not love his children when he let them roam around like animals, doing whatever they pleased without consequence.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »


%d bloggers like this: