Reading Libya: The Bleeding of the Stone by Ibrahim Al-Koni

The desert is a true treasure

for him who seeks refuge

from men and the evil of men.

In it is contentment,

In it is death and all you seek.

-Sufi muwwal

I am a firm believer that if we let it, the landscape we live in can define us.
I’m a person of trees and grass and green. Born in a place that is all of those things, I’ve lived most of my life in the Eastern Deciduous forest zone, or in a subtropical landscape.

But there is very much a part of me that connects fully to the desert. I love the intensity, the wide open spaces; it’s a very different feeling than where I call home. When I get stressed, and all of the noise of the world is starting to drive me a little crazy, I’m always tempted to get in my car and drive until the green runs out. To get to a place where there’s nothing stopping the sun and wind.

Ubari oasis - with lakes in Erg Awbari (Idehan Ubari) in the Sahara desert region of the Wadi Al Hayaa District, of the Fezzan region in southwestern Libya.
Ubari oasis – with lakes in Erg Awbari (Idehan Ubari) in the Sahara desert region of the Wadi Al Hayaa District, of the Fezzan region in southwestern Libya (image by Luca Galuzzi http://www.galuzzi.it, via Wikimedia Commons)

And now I have this book to turn to when I need that feeling. The author, Ibrahim Al-Koni, is Tuareg and it’s crystal clear that he’s intimately in tune with his people’s deep desert roots. His love of that land absolutely bursts out of almost every line of this book; once I started it, I could not put it down.

It’s a tough read in terms of the messages he’s trying to convey; I wanted to scream “Stop it! Go away!” to some of the characters, but that’s offset by the beauty and depth of the story’s protagonist, and the landscape and animals that he loves and honors.

I’m thrilled to have read this book, and have two more of this author’s titles on order from the library. I’m never going to get through my To-Read pile of books, which is really a mountain anymore, but oh well. Just knowing there’s literature out in the world like this can be enough…

Sand dunes of Wan Caza in the Sahara desert region of Fezzan in Libya
Sand dunes of Wan Caza in the Sahara desert region of Fezzan in Libya (image by Luca Galuzzi – http://www.galuzzi.it, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

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Reading Guatemala: The Popol Vuh

A foreign power attempting to wipe out an ancient religion and culture. A story formed by oral tradition, written down by an unknown scribe in hopes that future generations would know their own history. That’s how the Popul Vuh came to be. And it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to experience it now.

The Popul Vuh is sometimes referred to as The Mayan Bible, but that’s misleading. It doesn’t claim to be the Word of God, or a spiritual text that tells the faithful how to live life. It’s the origin story  and cosmology of the Quiche Maya, who live in what is now modern-day Guatemala. The Quiche refer to it as an Ilb’al – an “instrument of sight” – and also as “The Book of the Mat”, since it was traditionally told to an audience of people sitting on woven mats

There are tales of silent nothingness, restless and vengeful gods, the making of the first men and women. The book concludes with the genealogy and migration of the Quiche Maya, and with this mournful passage:

This is enough about the being of Quiche, given that there is no longer a place to see it. There is the original book and ancient writing owned by the lords, now lost, but even so, everything has been completed here concerning Quiche, which is now named Santa Cruz.

There are numerous translations available, but I chose the one by Dennis Tedlock. I just read that he passed away last year, which makes me very sad; there are quite a few very lovely tributes to him out in the world which goes to show what an impact he had. He’s left a great legacy of translated works from both the Maya, and the Zuni people in the American Southwest. I’ll be moving on from the Popul Vuh to his translation of the Rabinal Achí, a Mayan drama that survives from pre-Columbian times and that’s still performed annually in Guatemala. How cool is that? While I’m at it, I’m also reading a couple of books by his wife, Barbara Tedlock. It’s like a light switch has flipped for me, and I’ll be learning all I can about this corner of the world…stay tuned!

An original painting showing figures from the Popol Vuh
Popol Vuh, Oriente (image by Cuilomerto (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons)

Reading Japan: Woman on the Other Shore

So many choices for reading about Japan. Not only that, but I’ve already engaged with quite a few of the best known Japanese authors (Murakami, Ishiguro, Soseki, Kawabata), so that left me free to dig a little deeper. And I’m so glad I did.

The book I chose, Woman on the Other Shore  by Mitsuyo Kakuta is just beautiful. It made me realize how rarely you encounter a real telling of relationships between women; friendships, daughters and mothers, coworkers – all of these can be so impactful, but we’re often left to navigate the emotions they bring up all by ourselves. I recommend this book wholeheartedly; it’s well worth your time.

Image of Imaihama-Kaigan Station in Kawazu, Shizuoka, Japan
A location in the book: Imaihama-Kaigan Station in Kawazu, Shizuoka, Japan (Image by Okajun, via Wikimedia Commons)

Reading about New Zealand: Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff

Well, I said in my intro to New Zealand that I wanted to move past all that pretty scenery and dig deeper into the psyche of the country.

Mission accomplished. Perhaps OVER-ACCOMPLISHED.

I started a few different titles, but nothing was clicking. Finally settled on Once Were Warriors, by Alan Duff, and stuck with it.

Now that I’m done, I kind of don’t know what to say. There was nothing easy about this book, at all. It’s good, in that it’s well-written, in a confident voice, and about a community -and its problems- that I might never know about otherwise. It’s painful in that quite a few of the characters make terrible choices, and are cruel and abusive to those around them. And the one character I did respect and like…well, it’s just harsh.

Published in 1990, this book is still controversial, and it’s easy to see why. It was made into a movie about a decade later, and I’m still deciding if I can handle watching it…

All told, a worthwhile read but it will hit you hard.

Front of a traditional Maori long canoe
Front of a traditional Maori long canoe
(image by Steve Evans from Citizen of the World via Wikimedia Commons)