Thirteen Hours

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A roller coaster of a ride, this story is set mostly on the streets of Cape Town, about a young woman’s fight to stay alive, while being hunted by brutal thugs.  I think it’s a great book, capturing the real essence of the racial melting pot of South Africa.   Let’s face it, South Africa is known for it’s high crime rate, and it’s violent criminals and this is Deon Meyer’s fodder.  It’s gritty reading, but it’s good.  Trackers was the first Meyer book I read, and Thirteen Hours is the second.  I enjoyed Trackers, but Thirteen Hours was even better.  I will certainly be reading  his other books.

I think I over enthusiastically set myself the goal, on GoodReads of reading 52 books this year.  A book a week.  Which means I’ve already got catching up to do.  Somehow, I don’t quite think so!


Little Women of Baghlan

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Once upon a time I dreamed of adventure and travelling to distant lands.  Who knows, maybe I will one day.  In the meantime, I read about such stories.  Little Women of Baghlan: The Story of a Nursing School for Girls in Afghanistan, the Peace Corps, and Life Before the Taliban is  a true account  about  a young American woman, Joanne Carter, a registered nurse, who in 1968 joins the Peace Corps and travels to Afghanistan, where she works for two years in rural Afghanistan at a hospital and teaches nursing to a group of young women, some only teenagers. Jo is ably assisted by Nan and Mary, a lab technician and another RN. Together they face trials and tribulations, in a country where health services are backward and women are second class citizens, most barely able to read and write.  Despite their hardships,  they are accepted into village life and are treated like family by many of the local folk in the area they live.

There is not much about nursing for the first half of the book,  it is more about joining the Peace Cops, travelling to a distant country and adjusting to a completely different way of life.  The second half of the book is then about the hospital, teaching “Jo’s Girls” and of general life in Baghlan.  It’s an interesting and enjoyable read, part travelogue, part work/life experience and part history.

Every now and then I read a book that gives me pause for reflection. This is one of them.  It makes me grateful for many things.  That I received a decent education, and I can read write.   That I was able to enter the vocation I chose.  That as a woman, I was free to marry for love, and not married off to a man twice (or even thrice) my age.  Simple things that many of us take for granted sometimes.

Little women of bhag

Good Morning Mr Mandela and Third World Child

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Good Morning Mr Mandela, by Zelda la Grange, is a memoir by Nelson Mandela’s long serving and loyal assistant.  Zelda takes you on her journey with Nelson Mandela, starting when she was in her early twenties, as a typist in the Presidential office, from first meeting  President Mandela, until she became a trusted assistant.  She tells how she came from a typical conservative Afrikaaner, if not racist background, where her parents and people like her parents considered the likes of Mandela communists and terrorists, people to be afraid of. She takes you on their travels around the world and shares her insights about a great man.  It is a uniquely South African story – where in the world, except South Africa, would a man imprisoned for nearly thirty years, upon his release and becoming President, employ “the enemy” (figuratively speaking).   Nelson Mandela wanted a non racial South Africa and he set the example, which this books shows. Not that race relations are perfect in South Africa, but things would have been so much worse if it hand’t been for Nelson Mandela.

After I’d finished Zelda’s book, I went straight onto another South African book, but wow, what a crazy and thrilling story it was.  3rd world child   Some years ago I read a book called My Traitors Heart by Rian Malan, an intriguing book about an Afrikaans journalist trying to come tor grips with his heritage and the role his ancestors played in apartheid. Towards the end of the book, he writes a bout a man called Neil Alcock, a man who ended up in one of the most desolate, barren and violent places in South Africa, if not Africa.  A white English speaking South African who spoke fluent Zulu and who brought up his two sons in Msinga in Kwa – Zulu Natal.  Neil Alcock and his wife Creina fought for the rights of the locals, people who had no voice and often suffered from the brutalities of the white farmers and the police. They lived like the Zulus, among the Zulus, and as such that is how their boys grew up.  Not only did the Zulus in the area suffer because of apartheid, but Msinga was arid and almost barren, and they fought among themselves, with tribal violence often flaring up, because certain groups often had scores and vendettas to settle.  After all the Zulus are a warrior like nation, and the honorable way to settle arguments was (is) in battle.  Neil Alcock ultimately paid the price with his life, he was trying to make peace, but he made enemies for that, as often happens with such men, sadly.  GG, Neil Alcock’s oldest son takes you on a thrilling ride of his life, from his boyhood growing up in the Msinga bush in the 1980’s, from boarding school and dealing with racist classmates, then the army and onto his young adult years and making his mark in the world.  It might sound crazy, but if you live in South Africa, you’ll know that just this sort of story is more than possible.  Who needs fiction, when you’ve got a true story like this?!  I have camped near Msinga, at a farm called Darkest Africa, and it is indeed a captivating part of the country. During the times I camped there, I knew nothing of the turbulent past of the area, after all, I guess I come from a more safe and cocooned life, almost tame in some ways, and have not experienced violence on the level GG Alcock has. A few years later, I read of Darkest Africa in My Traitors Heart, and all I could think of is, my word, I am a naive little cookie when it comes to the ways of the world.  What occurred to me while I was reading Third World Child, and I grew up in a sheltered “white” life – similar to that of Zelda la Grage, is that you have the Alcocks – a white family, who in the early eighties, move to a predominantly Zulu area and are for the most part accepted by the Zulus as their own – but yet it would have been nigh impossible for a Zulu family to move into a white neighborhood during that time, and be accepted as part of the neighborhood family.  What more can I say?  It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Reading through the years.

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When I was a child, my mother read to us occasionally before bed time.  Not a lot, but at times she did.  The most exciting story she read to my siblings and me, I’ve always thought, was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  I was a nine year old tomboy living in a small town, and yearned for such adventures, packing my satchel once to run away in the middle of the night, but when the time came, I lost my courage and snuggled further back under my blankets, angry with myself because I couldn’t go through with it!  I couldn’t wait for the nights that my mom would read a couple of chapters and was rather sad when there was no more to read.  On my own, I would read the likes of Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree, The Enchanted Wood, The Famous Five and Nancy Drew.

My high school years saw me reading Mills and Boons type books, while dreaming of the likes of Tom Cruise in Top Gun. When I was thirteen or fourteen, and in boarding school, I got my hands on Lace by Shirley Conran.  I remember my father being concerned that it was not appropriate for someone my age.  I think I said everyone at school was reading it, which they were, and somehow I got away with it.  For more serious reads I would go for Catherine Cookson.  In my English Literature Class in high school, among our set books I remember having to read were, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men and Empire of the Sun, and of course an obligatory Shakespeare which was Macbeth.

When I was in my early to late twenties I read mostly novels.  I have a little notebook, that I’ve kept from back then, listing the books I read from, more or less, twenty years ago. Dean Koontz was  a favorite for a couple of years, and I would read whatever of his books I could get my hands on.   I read several Stephen King books, but I preferred Koontz. I read a few of Frank G Slaughter’s medical books, along with Robin Cook for the thriller side of the medical business.  I would also read some of Jonathon Kellerman and Minette  Walters for the thriller stories.  Seeing I was born in Africa, how could I not read Wilbur Smith? There was another author EV Thompson, who also wrote some African sagas which I immersed myself in and dare I admit, there were times when for a light read I would pick up a Danielle Steele book.

These days I prefer factual stories.  After all, as Mark Twain quoted once upon a time, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”  From time to time I’ll read a novel, but mostly it’s true stories.

I finished reading Into the Wild.  It’s not a long read and Krakauer writes descriptively, hooking you in straight away, same as Into Thin Air.  It’s one of those books, I feel, where the writer makes you really experience the story along with the characters.  Which is what all books should do.  Some writers just do it better than others.

So, now I am tackling A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I’m getting used to the old English style of writing and am now sufficiently drawn into the story to want to see where it is leading…………

Reading Classics.

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As much as I enjoy reading, I have to admit I have not read many classics.  The likes of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Emily Bronte etc.  Sure, I’ve read a few, but several of which were in high school and a few in later years.  So, I am setting myself a goal and that is to read a classic every now and then.  I am not going to set myself a really difficult goal, by saying once a month I’m going to read a really long one, but I do want try and start reading them on a somewhat regular basis.

I’ve started with A Tale of Two Cities.  I just read a few pages in the early hours of the morning, so I really can’t give much of an opinion for starters.

At the moment I’m reading Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer.  I read Into Thin Air a couple of years ago, about the ill fated 1996 Everest Expedition, and found it really interesting.  I knew very little about climbing Everest at the time, and all the time and finances that goes into it, so I certainly learned a fair bit from the book.  Not that I have any desire to go climbing Everest, even if I did have the time and money……. Maybe a trek to base camp, but that’s as far as I would go.  I watched Into the Wild when it first came out, with my mother, and she got quite upset trying to make sense why someone would do what Christopher McCandless did.  I think that as a mother, she related more to his parents angst, and felt he was selfish doing what he did to his parents.  I felt I could understand to a point why – not his being unforgiving towards his parents, but at times I wish I could chuck it all in, hit the road and free myself from the restraints of society, but only a few of us have the courage to actually do what he did. Sadly, or even maybe selfishly he held onto his anger with parents for a long time.  If he’d been able to let go of that anger sooner, maybe the outcome wouldn’t have been as tragic.  Both books though, show that ultimately nature does not let us off lightly.

Call the Midwife

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I can’t believe it has been over nine months since I did a post.  I have been reading a lot, just not not blogging about my the books I’ve read.  While visiting my Mother and Sister in England, I picked up Farewell to the East End, by Jennifer Worth, off my sister’s bookshelf.  I could’t put it down.  I downloaded the series onto my kindle and then read Call the Midwife, Farewell to the East End and Shadows of the Workhouse in a few days.  I’d watched a few episodes of Call the Midwife and enjoyed them.  I could imagine the characters while I was reading the book, but as usual, books are better because they simply give you more insight than the screen does.

The series follows a time in the author’s life, in the late 1950’s when she was a newly qualified midwife, in her mid twenties, working in a convent in the East End, with Anglican nuns, and several other young nurses, who she becomes friends with. Maybe one of the reasons I was engrossed in the series, is because I am a nurse and found her stories fascinating.  I also enjoy history and it was interesting reading about England in the fifties, when it was recovering from the second world war.  I know about the the second world war and the bombing of London by the Germans – who doesn’t, but what of the years afterwards? When the East end was recovering from the devastation of being bombed and large parts of the area and buildings in rubble?  It was a time when Britain began looking after it’s people by providing free health services, something that even fifty years previously was unheard of.  Not only are her stories of the 1950’s but she writes about the history of nursing and midwifery, and how many suffered in the workhouses.  She shares some amazing experiences she and her fellow nurses/sisters went through.  Of the poverty of the people they nursed, but how the people maintained their dignity as best they could, and worked as hard as they could, despite the numerous hardships they lived under constantly.  As a nurse, I certainly have my own stories to tell I think, but her stories are from a different era, and just seem so much more interesting compared to what I have experienced as a nurse.  The workhouse stories were sad.  The workhouses were started with apparently good intentions, to house the destitute and orphans, but the workhouses were hard, and the children of course suffered the most.  That sort of reading isn’t the easiest, but stories like that have to be written.  Stories like that give mankind a choice not to repeat the mistakes of the past.  Not that it always takes those chances mind you.

Well worth the read.

Chasing the Devil, The Search for Africa’s Fighting Spirit

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Gosh, I can’t believe it’s over a month since I posted. As always, I have intentions to post more often, but unfortunately all too often, those intentions fall flat, and all too soon another Christmas is almost upon us. However, I have read a few books since Taylor’s Gift, and I have just finished Chasing the Devil by Tim Butcher, which stands out as the best of them.
chasing the devil

After reading his previous travel book, Blood River, A journey to Africa’s Broken Heart and enjoying it, I finally got around to reading Chasing the Devil and likewise enjoyed it. Brave man indeed. In Blood River he sets out to traverse the length of the Congo River as the Victorian explorer Henry Morton Stanley had done so in his 1876-77 expedition and like Chasing the Devil, this book is not just about himself and his travels, but of the average citizen on the ground and the lives they live in order to survive in such politically unstable & often war torn environments.

In Chasing the Devil, he treks through Sierra Leone and Liberia, and briefly Guinea, but mostly it’s about his trek on foot through Sierra Leone and Liberia. He follows author Graham Greene’s trail, who trekked through the countryside and jungles, with his cousin Barbara in 1935, through those countries. He describes well Graham Greene’s journey and their hardships and of course the differences in 1935, compared to that of the late 2000′s.

Before reading Chasing the Devil, I knew little of the two countries, besides the brutal “diamond war” in Sierra Leone, watching Blood Diamond with Leonardo Di Caprio, and the Charles Taylor trial at the Hague. I did know that Liberia was never colonized, but had been “given” to freed American slaves, but other than that I never knew of the deeper history of these two countries and Tim Butcher does a good job of explaining their histories and also gives you a good understanding of why there has been such conflict/war in those countries.

Of course Mr Butcher details his own trip and his hardships with his travel companion and their two guides/assistants (compared to about a dozen or so porters that the Greene’s used), but he describes well how the people out in the harsh countryside and jungle survive, not only facing the natural dangers, but eking out their living and doing the best they can, in the face of recovering from war, and living in a such poverty stricken countries, that are still somewhat politically unstable. Not only that, he describes well their traditional beliefs and again gives one a good understanding of such matters and at times brutal acts. Where there is little Western interference, such beliefs that Westerners may consider backward and evil, remain dominant and a part of everyday life. Along the way he meets interesting characters, many local, good and bad, and a few foreigners whether involved in aid, or trying to do their bit to spread “light” to this part of Africa that has seen so much brutality.

I found this a thoroughly interesting and engrossing book.

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