Books to transport you, as picked by colleagues at International ESUs around the world
Even if you’re not going away this summer, a good book can take you (or your mind at least) to pastures new, helping you to see the world and its people with new eyes.
We asked friends at four International ESUs to select the title or titles which they felt best gave a flavour of their country or another they know well. We hope you can find time to read at least one; perhaps it could even form the basis of a book club discussion with other ESU members in your branch?
Having Said Goodnight by Pierre Mejlak, Translated into English by Clare Vassallo and Antoine Cassar, (Merlin Publishers 2015)
Recommended by: Pia Zammit, Director, ESU Malta
‘This is the English edition of Dak li l-Lejl Ihallik Tghid which won Mejlak Malta’s National Book Award in 2012 and then, in 2014, the highest European literary honour, the European Union Prize for Literature. It’s a collection of 10 beautifully crafted stories which take us on a journey of memory and nostalgia, with a distinct Mediterranean flavour. As the jury of the European Union Prize for Literature said: “This is a book about storytelling, not only as a form of pleasure that is shared between writer and reader, but more importantly as a gift that’s given with love and needs love to be appreciated”.’
Desert by J.M.G. Le Clezio, Translated by C.Dickson (David R. Godine, 2009)
Recommended by: Lucia Dumont Renard, Chairman, ESU France and former president of the ESU International Council
‘I could have selected a novel by a classic author like Victor Hugo, Balzac or Alexandre Dumas, whose worldwide popularity is undeniable but I have chosen to present a book by Nobel Prize winner J.M.G. Le Clezio because I think he describes the beauty of world cultures. Le Clezio’s work mirrors the multiculturalism of our modern world and, as a cosmopolitan French citizen speaking several languages, he promotes a dialogue across continents and cultures. He was praised by The Académie Française after publishing Desert – a very moving novel about roots, migration and freedom. The title ‘Desert’, with its many possible definitions, assists us in our voyage through the text, a voyage that is both physical and spiritual. Conjuring magnificent images of a lost culture in the North African desert and portraying Europe through the eyes of unwanted immigrants, Le Clezio helps us to listen to the sound of the world, understand the mystery of humanity, and to develop a heightened understanding of others. No sooner had I finished reading Desert, I wanted to read it again. Le Clezio, in my view, gives a flavour of French literature as a melting pot of influences and a great place of encounters.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin (Bloomsbury, 2010)
Recommended by: Kamal Monnoo, President, English-Speaking Union Lahore, Pakistan
‘My wife, Iram, introduced this book to me and I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable and relevant. Attended to by his domestic staff, the elderly KK Harouni, retired civil servant and landowner, has withdrawn into his decaying mansion in Lahore. Meanwhile, income from his extensive, once profitable landholdings slowly declines under the management of a corrupt overseer. In these haunting stories of the characters that people Harouni’s world – his land agent, his mistress, wealthy relatives, servants, farmhands – Mueenuddin skilfully examines the intersections of class and power and the destruction of a feudal order by forces of modernity.’
‘I’d also like to recommend Sketches From A Howdah (Charlotte, Lady Canning’s Tours, 1858-61) by F.S. Aijazuddin (Harewood, 2018) which was the subject of a book reading session at the ESU in February by the author. Retracing the sub-continent’s history through Lady Canning’s paintings was fascinating, to say the least, and given that her work came much after her travels – just from memory – tells us of the divine gift she possessed.
The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna (Penguin Putnam Inc, 2010)
Recommended by: Ulla Ladau-Harjulin, Co-Chairman, ESU Finland
‘I’d like to recommend this not-so serious story in which a man, with the help of a hare, comes to appreciate what’s important in life. A long-time bestseller in Finland, the humour in it has been well understood and appreciated by international readers (it has been translated into many languages including Italian, German, Dutch, Greek, Hungarian and Japanese) and the French (in addition to the Finns) have even made it into a film.’
Image by Mantas Hesthaven via Unsplash