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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Posted by: koolwine | January 16, 2017

Saint Lucia: The Prodigal

The Prodigal by Derek WalcottA poet wonders if his long periods of living and traveling in the world’s great cities have untethered him from his humble island home.

Country Focus: Saint Lucia

The Prodigal
By Derek Walcott
Published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2004.
105 pgs.

Genre: Poetry

About the author:  Walcott won the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature and many other honors for his poetry, plays and essays. The Saint Lucian’s most notable work is Omeros, a Caribbean retelling of Homer’s The Iliad featuring rival fishermen.

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Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott


Envy of statues; this is how it grew:
every day in Milan, en route to class,
I passed my rigid, immortal friend, the General,
on his morose green horse, still there on weekends.
The wars were over but he would not dismount.
Had he died, catapulted in some charge
in some euphonious battle? The bronze charger
was lathered, streaked with sweat, in the summer sun.
We had no such memorials on the island.
Our only cavalry were the charging waves,
pluming with spume, and tossing plunging necks.
Who knows what war he fought in and whose shot
tumbled his whinnying steed? Envy of fountains.
Poor hero on his island in the swirl of traffic,
denied the solace of an umbrageous linden
or chestnut with bright medals through its leaves.
Envy of columns. Calm. Envy of bells.
Peace widened the Sunday avenue in Milan.


Posted by: koolwine | January 11, 2017

Kosovo: Beyond the Mountains of the Damned

Beyond the Mountains of the Damned by Matthew McAllesterA journalist investigates the atrocities perpetrated by Serbs against their Albanian neighbors in the Kosovar city of Pec in 1999. 

Country Focus: Kosovo

Beyond the Mountains of the Damned: The War Inside Kosovo
By Matthew McAllester
Published by New York University Press, 2002.
225 pgs.

Genre: Nonfiction

About the author: McAllester, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, is currently the European editor of Newsweek. He has penned two other books: Bittersweet: Lessons from My Mother’s Kitchen, and Blinded by the Sunlight: Emerging from the Prison of Saddam’s Iraq.

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Matthew McAllester

Matthew McAllester


There is a feeling of true elation in the the transformed town. It’s not just that the war is over and they are home. For the first time in their lives, the Albanians of Pec don’t have to live with the Serbs. By August, there’s not a single Serb living in Pec. Although there are still thousands of Serbs left in Kosovo, Pec is not a place for them any more. There was too much killing in this town during the war for forgiveness, people say. Too much burning and stealing by too many Serbs. A Serb here would only be an opportunity for revenge and there would be hundreds lining up to seize the opportunity. Even a kindly old couple I met in mid-June are gone. They risked their lives to provide their Albanian neighbor with shelter during the war. The last time I saw them—just a couple of days after I met them—they were hiding in a locked pharmacy opposite the Italian base. A KLA man had called through their door that they had better be gone soon or they would be dead. In August, they are long gone.

Posted by: koolwine | December 31, 2016

Seychelles: The Edge of Eden

The Edge of Eden by Helen BenedictUpon arriving in the Seychelles in 1960, Penelope mopes about in her room longing for England, her husband Rupert falls for an island beauty, and their young daughters dabble in witchcraft.        

Country Focus: Seychelles

The Edge of Eden
By Helen Benedict
Published by Soho Press, 2009.
312 pgs.

Genre: Fiction

About the author: Benedict is best known for her reportage on the rape and sexual assault of female soldiers. Her award-winning book The Lonely Soldier inspired the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War.

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Helen Benedict

Helen Benedict


“What’s a bonhomme de bois? said Zara, who pronounced the Creole she was learning as if it were the French she’d been taught at school. “What’s grigri?” Francis crouched down to tell her in a whisper that sent chills up her arms.

“The bonnonm, he is a mighty wizard. He can put a curse on somebody, he can cure the worst sicknesses, he can make someone love you forever. And the spells he uses, some call this Ti Albert and some call it grigri.”

A real wizard, just like in Daddy’s stories! Right there on their own island! Zara could hardly believe her luck.

Posted by: koolwine | December 6, 2016

Cameroon: Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo MbueJende Jonga’s new job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a Lehman Brothers executive, marks a shift in his newly immigrated family’s luck. They are on the cusp of achieving the American dream. By all outward appearances, the Edwards personify this dream, but Jende and his wife Neni learn that Clark’s success has come at a price. When the global financial crisis hits, both families reach their breaking points.

Country Focus: Cameroon

Behold the Dreamers
By Imbolo Mbue
Published by Random House, 2016.
382 pgs.

Genre: Fiction

About the author: Behold the Dreamers is Mbue’s first novel. The Cameroonian native lives in New York City.

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“So why are you here?”

“I am sorry, sir?”

“Why did you come to America if your town is so beautiful?”

Imbolo Mbue

Imbolo Mbue

Jende laughed, a brief uneasy laugh. “But sir,” he said. “America is America.”

“I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean.”
“Everyone wants to come to America, sir. Everyone. To be in this country, sir. To live in this country. Ah! It is the greatest thing in the world, Mr. Edwards.”

“That still doesn’t tell me why you’re here.”

Jende thought for a second; he thought about what to say without saying too much. “Because my country is no good, sir,” he said. “It is nothing like America. I stay in my country, I would have become nothing. I would have remained nothing. My son will grow up and be poor like me, just like I was poor like my father. But in America, sir? I can become something. I can even become a respectable man. My son can become a respectable man.”

“And that could never happen in your country?”

“Never, Mr. Edwards.”

Posted by: koolwine | December 4, 2016

Burundi: Strength in What Remains

Strength in What Remains by Tracy KidderThis is the story of Deo, a Burundian who escaped genocide in both his home country and neighboring Rwanda. A 24-year-old former medical student, he arrived in New York City with $200 and no knowledge of English. The kindness of strangers and Deo’s innate intelligence and perseverance helped him overcome the odds. Little more than a decade later, he had metamorphosed into an Ivy League-educated doctor who had established a health center in Burundi.

Country Focus: Burundi

Strength in What Remains
By Tracy Kidder
Published by Random House, 2009.
277 pgs.

Genre: Nonfiction

About the author: The American journalist Tracy Kidder won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1982 for The Soul of a New Machine.  He met Deo through Paul Farmer, the highly regarded physician and humanitarian he profiled in his 2003 award-winning book Mountains Beyond Mountains.

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Deogratius Niyizonkiza

Tracy Kidder

Tracy Kidder


Deo had spent a lot of time, in the classrooms and cathedrals of this rarefied piece of Manhattan, thinking about the catastrophic violence in Burundi and Rwanda. He had left Columbia believing that misery had been not the sole cause of the mayhem, but a primary cause, a precondition too often neglected  by scholars: little or no education for most and, for those who did get it, lessons in brutality; toil and deprivation, hunger and disease and untimely death, including rampant infant mortality, which justified all-but-perpetual pregnancy for women until menopause. He told me, “Women get so exhausted that by the time they are thirty they walk like, you know, old ladies. And they are the ones most of the time who do the farming. At sunset, go down the hill, get water to cook. And women are not allowed to own property…” He went on: “Almost everyone has got worms. They are there since they were born, and worms will be their friends until they die. Can you imagine that kind of life? It’s terrible. How are you going to think right? With pain everywhere. So it’s been really hard to blame the people who have been slaughtering each other, though I do blame people all the time. They were not themselves. They were something else.”

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