The Time in Between, by María Dueñas (translated from the original Spanish by Daniel Hahn)

Culture and history are two of my favourite subjects in the world, and historical fiction is my favourite genre to read.

“The Time in Between” by María Dueñas incorporates culture and history seamlessly, bringing to life completely new events that prior to reading this book I was completely unaware of.

Set in the 1930s Dueñas writes about Sira, a simple dress maker from Madrid. As the years pass she goes through numerous extremes, first gaining riches, then loosing it all. She moves from Madrid to Morocco in order to chase love but is unable to always keep up. The civil war in Spain creates unrest and then WWII brings its own series of issues to Spain and Northern Africa. Sira creates a life for herself, gaining strength and confidence from nothing while adapting to the turmoil and unrest of war.

“The Time In Between” is a long book to read and has many story lines. I sometimes found myself thinking that this book would be better off split in to two stories. What kept me going and what kept me intrigued to read more was the way it was written. Dueñas is clearly a gifted author, but so is her translator Daniel Hahn. There were some points in which there were pages of dialogue but despite the exhausting length, the author, along with the translator, was able to use witty and strong language in order to completely capture my attention.

Until this novel I had never before read a book that had been translated into English. It is always a gamble reading translated novels as one can wonder if the translator was able to capture exactly what the author was trying to convey. After reading “The Time In Between”, I think that Dueñas can be very proud of Hahn’s work. This book truly is a written masterpiece.

I know what I’m saying sounds exaggerated but it is truly what I think. As I was reading the book all I could think about was how amazingly every thought was delivered and every subject was written. Though the topic already fascinates me, it was the delivery that stuck out.

Overall I would highly recommend this book. Through it I was able to learn more about the civil war in Spain, Spain’s relationship with Morocco, and about the WWII resistance movement in Spain. Reading this book also convinced me of my desire to travel to Spain and Morocco where I can learn and see much of the history I read about first hand.

I am looking forward to reading another book by María Dueñas, translated by Daniel Hahn. I know that I can expect great things from this duo.

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The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith

I’d been meaning to read this book since high school, when my English teacher Ms. Grenier read us a few hilarious excerpts in class. I even got so far as taking the book out of the library not once, but twice. Still, it took me upwards of six years to get around to The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. All I can say is, I’m glad I’ve finally arrived.

Mma Precious Ramotswe is a smart, shrewd, modern and secretly hilarious Motswana (i.e. Botswanan) woman who decides to open a detective agency. Following are the episodic happenings related to her line of work. Sometimes they are funny; sometimes they are sad. Every few chapters presents a new case, together with the development of further overarching story lines that help bring the whole thing together. The narrative jumps around a bit, from this person’s point of view to that – but mostly we stay put in Mma Ramotswe’s mind and memories. This is no easy feat, considering the writer is an old Scottish man who is actually a professor of medical law! (Granted, he was born in Africa and obviously has a soft spot for it.) The fact that McCall Smith was able to get inside an African woman’s head and relay her voice so clearly speaks to his amazing talent. Add to that his perfect capture of the sadness/beauty dichotomy that is Africa, and you have the perfect beginner’s introduction to African literature.

So what else can I say without giving away too much of the mysteries? How about I hook you with a few quotes, the way I was first convinced I should get into this fun series? I only hope, if you’re interested, that it doesn’t take you six years to pick it up.

About Africa:

The book even spawned a 2008 HBO television spinoff!

“There was so much suffering in Africa that it was tempting just to shrug your shoulders and walk away. But you can’t do that, she thought. You just can’t.”

“Then, just past the Mochundi turnoff, the sun came up, rising over the wide plains that stretched away towards the course of the Limpopo. Suddenly it was there, smiling on Africa, a slither of golden red ball, inching up, floating effortlessly free of the horizon to dispel the last wisps of morning mist.”

About the “big problems of life”:

“It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you reason for going on. Pumpkin.”

And one last thing to make you laugh:

“She felt terribly sorry for people who suffered from constipation, and she knew that there were many who did. There were probably enough of them to form a political party – with a chance of government perhaps – but what would such a party do if it was in power? Nothing, she imagined. It would try to pass legislation, but would fail.”

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

The Book of Negroes was released as “Someone Knows My Name” in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand.

It’s been a long time since I last posted a book review but between school, work and just life in general, reading, unfortunately, is sometimes pushed aside. This being said, over the past few months since school ended I’ve read a few books that I’ve enjoyed including “The Birth House” by Ami McKay (a book reviewed by Deborah quite a few months ago) and “The Island” by Victoria Hislop (an easy read about a leper colony  on the island of Spinalonga off the coast of Crete). Although I could rave for ages about how wonderful “The Birth House” was, it is “The Book of Negroes” by Canadian author Lawrence Hill that is deserving of my short but sweet review.

“The Book of Negroes” chronicles the life story of  Aminata Diallo from West Africa. At the age of 11 she is captured by slavers and is shipped to the Americas. Throughout the novel Aminata is introduced to many new things while experiencing the horrors of slavery and living in captivity. Despite her terrible beginnings, Aminata’s life takes unexpected twists and turns, and the story tells of love, migration, abuse, birth, death and culture all through the eyes of a black slave from Africa.

Starting a new book is not always easy for me but after reading a couple of chapters in this novel I was hooked. The writing alone carried the story while the excellent plot, thought provoking subject and well crafted characters made the novel a joy to read. “The Book of Negroes” is a novel that I’ve seen advertised every time I step into a bookstore and after hearing my mom, sisters, extended family and friends rave about it, this book did not disappoint.

What I enjoyed most about “The Book of Negroes” is that Hill exposed a lot of topics, some of which I hadn’t been aware of in the past. He acknowledged that African people were responsible for enslaving and shipping their own people to the Americas. He also wrote about the difference between “African” people and “Negroes” and the way the were treated, something that I had always wondered about. A lot of what Hill wrote was new information to me and I appreciated the historical information that I was able to learn through reading the book.

“The Book of Negroes” is long so when you begin to read it be prepared to sit for quite a while. This being said the book is worth it, taking you on a roller coaster of the past, incorporating American, Canadian, British and African history alike.

My sister once said that the only downfall of this book is that it is written like a memoir yet Aminata Diallo is a fictional character. I think that Aminata’s character, although not completely historically accurate, is a representation of the people that were in her similar situation over 200 years ago. Those people were heroes living in a nightmare, taken from their homes and treated like animals. Thus, by reading this book, Aminata’s character and everything she stood for can also be called heroic and I thank Lawrence Hill for making this even more clear to me through this novel.