Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad – Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit

rowlatt_witwitI’d seen this book before and was curious, so when Elin had it as part of a Bookcrossing bookray I grabbed the chance and snuck in ahead of the last person on the list (sorry!). I then somehow left it in the tbr pile for a few months (double-sorry!). But it’s moving on now, really!

Bee Rowlatt is a producer for the BBC World Service and comes into contact with May Witwit while searching for English-speaking Iraquis to interview in the run-up to elections. While their e-mail correspondence starts out with a purely practical purpose, the two women soon start «chatting», about work and about life and a friendship develops. As life in Baghdad is hardly a bed of roses, they soon start discussing possible ways for May and her husband to get out of the country, and eventually hatch a plan to get them to Britain.

So far so good. Now, I have a few gripes.

Firstly, the spiel on the outside of the book goes on and on about how unlikely the friendship is and how «they should have nothing in common». Really? Two intelligent women with «intellectual» careers should obviously have nothing to talk about. Turns out they do.

My second gripe is more serious, I suppose, and that is that the book is around twice the length the «plot» and language can support. Let me elaborate. The «plot»: Not much happens. Bee talks about her kids, her globe-trotting husband and trying to balance career and family. May tells her about her life and about the everyday struggles of living in Baghdad (serious enough, don’t get me wrong, but even life in a war zone gets pretty mundane and boring in the long run). The title promises literary discussions, and, frankly, the bits where May relates how her students react to the books she teaches are the most interesting parts of the books, but they make up perhaps four pages of text all together – out of four hundred. And while both women write clearly and intelligently (for the most part), this is a real e-mail conversation, so, let’s face it, we’re not talking Nobel laureate quality of language and imagery here. The form does not make up for lack of action.

In other words, I lost interest about half way through. I vaguely wondered whether May would make it out, but I would have simply skipped ahead to the last page to find out if it wasn’t for the fact of this being a Bookcrossing book and I was loath to give up on it after having kept it so long.

Incidentally, my father happens to be reading Reading Lolita in Tehran at the moment. He saw my picture of Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad on Instagram and commented that it seemed to be a case of one title being a rip-off of the other. I don’t know which title came first, but I do know that if you were to ask me which one to read I would go with Nafisi’s book every time.

This copy’s Bookcrossing page.

Brevet til faren – Franz Kafka

Jeg har et anstrengt forhold til Franz Kafka. Jeg har hatt Prosessen på pensumlista til eksamen to ganger og lest første halvpart begge gangene før jeg ga opp. Jeg har derimot lest mange av ‘novellene’ (noen av dem er så korte at de nesten ikke kan kalles noveller) og likt dem, og jeg synes Prosessen er en interessant bok å diskutere (vi så en filmatisering i forbindelse med den ene lesingen, så jeg har en viss idé om hvordan siste halvpart forløper, selv om det utvilsomt hadde vært bedre å faktisk lese hele boka).

Brevet til faren ble en av sommerbøkene i boksirkelen, og siden jeg har lånt den på biblioteket og noen av de andre står på venteliste tenkte jeg det var best å bli ferdig med den. Hadde jeg latt den ligge der den lå, ved siden av senga til minstemann, slik at jeg kunne fortsatt å lese noen sider hver kveld i påvente av at hun skal sovne, hadde jeg nok lest hele på ordentlig måte, som det er må jeg innrømme at de siste 30 sidene ble skumlest.

Jeg vet ikke. Jeg klarer liksom ikke helt å bry meg. Kafka hadde sikkert et trasig liv – og i alle fall et fryktelig trasig forhold til faren sin, og det er jo trist – men han fenger meg ikke, og det er nesten så jeg får litt følelse av at han, vel, overspiller?

Kanskje jeg skulle plukket opp Prosessen igjen og lest andre halvpart denne gangen? Sist er vel nesten 20 år siden, men da gjorde jeg feilen med å begynne på nytt siden det var et par år før det at jeg prøvde første gang, og vi vet jo hvordan det gikk. Men om jeg begynner halvveis uti kan jeg kanskje klare å opprettholde interessen til jeg får lest den ut, det er tross alt ikke en spesielt tykk bok.

Watch this space.

84 Charing Cross Road

In which we sigh gratefully

Having read somewhat too much of a book I really didn’t want to read just now, I picked 84 Charing Cross Road out of a pile which is intended for RABCKs (I have another copy, obviously, but this one was at hand) to indulge myself. Oh, what a lovely feeling. This book of course, a must for any bibliophile. It is probably also a must for any anglophile, though I have a hard time imagining an anglophile who is not also a bibliophile, and so it is a bit difficult to say. somehow managed to offer me Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn as the «Perfect Partner» for Hanff (if you buy both, you get a discount). Can someone please explain to me how that happened? Is it simply because Miller is tagged as a «classic» and any classic goes with Hanff? Because, quite frankly, I fail to see the connection otherwise. If you really wanted a perfect partner for Hanff, how about this one? The ideal match, of course, would be any of Q’s lectures, but the best amazon can do is this, which he edited.

But Miller? Honestly!