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.


Posted by: koolwine | April 8, 2017

Swaziland: When Hoopoes Go to Heaven

Benedict is an unusually sensitive and caring ten-year-old whose family has recently moved to Swaziland.  When he’s not dreaming up new ways for his mother to build a clientele for her cake-baking business, he’s admiring birds and insects and worrying about the lives of the people around him. 

Country Focus: Swaziland (eSwatini in siSwati)

When Hoopoes Go to Heaven
By Gaile Parkin
Published by Corvus, 2012.
328 pgs.

Genre: Fiction

About the author:  Originally from Zambia, Parkin has lived and worked in many African countries, Swaziland among them. When Hoopoes Go to Heaven follows her first novel Baking Cakes in Kigali. Both books feature the character Angel Tungaraza, cake baker extraordinaire.

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

Gaile Parkin


It was malaria. Probably not a new malaria: they said you only got it it down in the eastern part of Swaziland, though Benedict was sure he had seen the black-and-white spotted mosquitoes that gave it to you in their house on the hill. This was probably old malaria visiting him again, which could happen on account of it sometimes never fully leaving your blood.

Lying in his bed, with Mama and Titi taking turns to drape a fresh damp cloth over his hot forehead and trying one after the other to tempt him with food that he didn’t want to eat, he thought feverishly about what had happened.

First Nomsa. A girl.

Then Josephine. A girl.

Now malaria. Which you could only get from a female mosquito.

Girls? Uh-uh-uh.

It was days and days before he was well enough to get out of bed.

Posted by: koolwine | March 23, 2017

Free Books! (Round 16)

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 month after posting date. April 23, 2016 is the deadline for requesting a book from Round 16.

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

Posted by: koolwine | March 19, 2017

Oman: The Turtle of Oman

Aref is feeling apprehensive about moving from Oman to the U.S. To ease his anxiety, his beloved grandfather takes him to all of his favorite places and reminds him that he will find his way back home—just like Oman’s green sea turtles.

Country Focus: Oman

The Turtle of Oman: A Novel
By Naomi Shihab Nye
Illustrations by Betsy Peterschmidt
Published by Greenwillow Books, 2014.
299 pgs.

Genre: Young adult fiction

About the author:  Nye is an accomplished Arab-American poet with Palestinian roots. Both her poetry and her fiction seek to bridge the divide between cultures. The Turtle of Oman was preceded by Nye’s first young adult novel, Habibi.

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

Naomi Shihab Nye


[Aref] stared out the window. Gazing left up the boulevard crowded with cars and buses, Aref could see the Hajar Mountains, which meant “Stone Mountains,” standing behind the low white buildings of the city. Everyone loved those brown mountains that loomed like a comforting wall. He slumped against the backseat and felt like crying.

To the right, palm trees bowed over the road. They swayed and shifted their drying palm skirts. The giant turquoise Arabian Sea had been there every day of his life. He had always known it. Oman was his only, number one, super-duper, authentic, absolutely personal place.

Aref knew how people moved, crossing a street, how they wrapped their scarves, how the call to prayer echoed across the city and made everyone feel peaceful and proud inside. He liked the way large white boulders were stacked beside the water. He even loved the clicking sounds of shoes and animal hooves in the marketplace, called the souk.

Posted by: koolwine | March 8, 2017

Guinea: The Dark Child

The Dark Child by Camara LayeCamara Laye recalls his childhood in French Guinea with fondness. Standout memories include his father’s otherworldly kinship with a snake, the highly ceremonial art of goldsmithing, and the author’s own ritual circumcision.   

Country Focus: Guinea (formerly French Guinea)

The Dark Child: The Autobiography of an African Boy
By Camara Laye (1928-1980)
Translated by James Kirkup and Ernest Jones
Introduction by Philippe Thoby-Marcelin, translated by Eva Thoby-Marcelin
Originally published in France as L’Enfant Noir, 1954.
My edition: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1994
188 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the author:  Laye was one of the first sub-Saharan African authors to be internationally recognized. He followed The Dark Child with three other books: The Radiance of the King, A Dream of Africa, and The Guardian of the Word.

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

Camara Laye

Camara Laye


But I was hardly aware of the length of the road [to his uncle’s village], for all sorts of marvels lay along it.

I say “marvels,” for Kouroussa is actually a city and hasn’t any of those country sights which a city child always finds marvelous. As we walked along we were likely to dislodge a hare or a wild boar; birds flew away at our approach, with a great beating of wings; sometimes we would meet a crowd of monkeys. Every time something like this happened I felt a small thrill of excitement, for I was more startled than the game which had suddenly been alerted. Observing my pleasure, my uncle would throw a fistful of pebbles a long way ahead; or he would beat the tall grass with a dead branch, to dislodge birds and animals. I would imitate him, but never for very long. The afternoon sun beat fiercely on the savannah, and I would return to slip my hand into his. Once again we would go along quietly.

Posted by: koolwine | March 2, 2017

Qatar: The Girl Who Fell to Earth

The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia Al-MariaSophia Al-Maria’s childhood is split between her mother’s home in the Pacific Northwest and her father’s home in Qatar. Somehow she must blend these radically different lifestyles together in order to secure her place in the world.

Country Focus: Qatar

The Girl Who Fell to Earth: A Memoir
By Sophia Al-Maria
Published by Harper, 2012.
271 pgs.

Genre: Memoir

About the author:  Al-Maria is a video artist whose works explore “Gulf Futurism, ” a term she coined to describe the rapid cultural and architectural transformation of the Persian Gulf.

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

Sophia Al-Maria

Sophia Al-Maria


Falak squinted into the photo, trying to make out who they were. “That’s your bother Badr with the dog.” She pointed him out.

“How can you tell?” I asked. The boy was facing away from the camera, clothed in a brown winter thobe.

Falak shrugged as though it were obvious. “The shape of his head, the way he’s standing.”

I stared long at the little figure but gleaned no clues. It seemed the uncanny gift of recognition that was hardwired into everyone else’s brains had skipped me. Even as a child I remembered being confused by the veiled women all around me and felt a strange jealousy when still-crawling babies were able to pick their mothers out of a lineup of identically perfumed and identically veiled women. I thought that if by chance one generation and a half a world were removed from the equation, I might have been living one of the last of the ancient ways on earth.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »


%d bloggers like this: