Only two reviews this month and then, after we have met to choose next year's books, the group closes for the summer. Our list will include a classic book, probably a biography or autobiography, something historical and some recent best sellers. We will try to seek out new writers and those we haven't read before, possibly choosing one or two from old favourites such as Kate Atkinson. Our official summer read is ‘I Am Pilgrim’ by Terry Hayes which, at over 900 pages, should help while away a few hours on the sun lounger!
In June we read ‘I Am Malala’ by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. Some of us had doubts about reading it as we would not usually choose a 'ghost written' book and we had concerns that Malala has been exploited politically. However in the first third of the book which concerns Malala's childhood up to age 12, her voice is clear and authentic. Descriptions of her idyllic Swat valley home conjure up a picture of paradise truly lost and certainly made us think about the circumstances in which many displaced people of that region have left their homes in recent history.
The middle section of the book details the political changes in Pakistan in our lifetimes and the impact on different groups within the country. We suspect that this was research on Lamb's part but acknowledging that Malala's father educated her as an equal from a very early age, and she certainly comes over as both precocious and mature in her interests and understanding, this cannot be assumed.
Finally we read about the shooting, her recovery and her fame. It is clear that her father is a campaigner in his own right and something of a thorn in the side of the Pakistani government. Malala could easily have become a martyr for the cause of girl's education and this seems likely to have saved her life. Overall the consensus was that the book was worth reading for the educative and personal account of a young woman who seems set to remain in the public eye. Its content cannot be compared to our previous book, ‘Infidel’ by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but, as another young Muslim woman prepared to speak out against radical doctrine at risk of her life, Malala is to be applauded.
For July we read ‘The Fishermen’ by Chigozie Obioma. This book tells a vivid story of a close-knit family in Nigeria who experience a shocking and tragic incident that arises following a meeting with a local madman, Abulu. There is a potential debate about whether the madman’s prophesy was a true forecast or by introducing the idea did he start a chain of events which resulted in the outcome he triggered? The four close brothers spend time fishing in the polluted river nearby despite their mother’s prohibition. They are emboldened by their father’s absence for business with the Bank of Nigeria. The distant patriarchal influence allows the brothers to assume a mantle of adulthood before they are mature enough to handle it and the chain is started.
The story is narrated by a younger brother whose view is typically naïve but genuine and who experiences all the fall out and loss but shows great maturity in his interpretation.
The political instability in Nigeria at the time appears as part of the essential background and economic hardships from the chaotic political situation are part of the setting too. There is a strong religious layer both from the typically Christian society at this time but also evidenced through the story telling itself.
Ultimately the strong social ties make this family seem rich in their relationships. Traditional African ambitions, by way of western education and even possible emigration to the hallowed lands of Canada, come tantalisingly close but the spell of the Abulu spreads over this family. Despite the tragedies the narrator shows maturity beyond his years and begins to develop his own resilience beyond the influence of his father and brothers.