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.

Posted by: koolwine | June 1, 2017

Marshall Islands: Surviving Paradise

Eager for adventure in the remote and exotic South Pacific, an American college graduate arrives on a tiny island to teach English to Marshallese children.

Country Focus: Marshall Islands

Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island
By Peter Rudiak-Gould
Published by Union Square Press, 2009.
244 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the author:  Rudiak-Gould’s time in the Marshall Islands lead him to write two scholarly books: Practical Marshallese and Climate Change and Tradition in a Small Island State. His second memoir, The Oxford Tribe, describes his time as an anthropology student at the oldest university in the Western world.

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

Peter Rudiak-Gould


This was my new world, so I decided to explore it. After making some hand signals to Alfred and Tior to explain what I was up to, I stepped onto the beach and embarked on a bold one-man expedition: to circle the entirety of the island’s shore.

Forty-five minutes later, I wondered what else I could do for the rest of the year.

I tried again. I crossed the uninhabited interior of the island, certain my first foray along the beach had bypassed some vast swath of hidden territory. It hadn’t, I realized five minutes later, when I reached the opposite shore. I tried a third time, walking along the lagoon-hugging village, searching for spots that I hadn’t passed yesterday when Alfred guided me from the airstrip to his house. There were none, I realized as I reached the airport fifteen minutes later. Uncharted had become well trodden. I had circumnavigated the world before lunch.

Posted by: koolwine | April 30, 2017

Benin: Spirit Rising

Angélique Kidjo’s inspiring memoir chronicles her rise from child singer to global superstar and activist.

Country Focus: Benin

Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music
By Angélique Kidjo with Rachel Wenrick
Forward by Desmond Tutu
Introduction by Alicia Keys
Published by Harper Design, 2014.
255 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the author:  Kidjo is a three-time Grammy Award-winning musician who passionately believes in the unifying power of music. “Listening to music, the color of a person disappears, language disappears. Even enemies listen to the same music.” Kidjo has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002. In 2007, she founded the Batonga Foundation to promote and provide secondary and higher education for African girls.

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

Angelique Kidjo


That day, when I learned of apartheid, I wrote “Azan Nan Kpé,” which means that the day will come when there won’t be any oppression or oppressed anymore. The first version of that song was very, very violent. My father said to me, “Not in my house. No violence in my house. No hatred in my house. Music has nothing to do with hatred. I understand your frustration and I understand your anger, but you’re going to revise your copy. You can’t use your songs to add fuel to the fire. Music is supposed to bring people together and fight for peace, because it is art and beauty, not just politics.” To this day, I always keep this in mind when I write a song.

Posted by: koolwine | April 11, 2017

Azerbaijan: The Orphan Sky

Leila is poised to win a national piano competition and the heart of a handsome communist leader, but an encounter with a mysterious and radical young man changes the course of her life forever.

Country Focus: Azerbaijan (Azarbaycan in Azeri)

The Orphan Sky
By Ella Leya
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, 2015.
356 pgs.

Genre: Fiction

About the author:  Leya, like her protagonist Leila, was born and raised in Soviet Azerbaijan. She emigrated to the U.S. in 1990 and makes her living as a singer-songwriter. The Orphan Sky is her first and only novel.

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

Ella Leya


Why did my family live in such luxury? Why was my papa allowed to acquire and display his riches instead of using them for the common good? Why did I myself preach the equality of our Communist society to the younger generation?

Because that was the normal way of life in Soviet Azerbaijan, something I never would have thought of questioning. There were the common citizens and there was Nomenklatura—the ruling class of Communist Party members, who held key positions in government, industry, and culture. To become a part of Nomenklatura was an ultimate ambition of every Soviet citizen.

I was born into it.


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