There are 10 avid readers in the 2013 Bookworm Book Club, and we’ve just discussed the best books we’ve read this year. It was too difficult for our members to reach consensus in arranging them in order of merit, so we went alphabetically instead. Most of the books are recent publications, though a couple of oldies but goodies crept in.
Margaret Atwood’s final book in her dystopian trilogy, Maddadam (2013), had most of us rushing to get real, or downloaded, copies of the first two — so that we could get in tune with the chaos that ensued when man tinkered with genetic engineering and climate change.
None of us minded going back to a World War Two setting for a grippingly cinematic coming-of-age tale set during the Nazi’s brutal siege of Leningrad. David Beniof’s City of Thieves (2008) puts young Kolya and Lev in search of a dozen eggs for a Soviet colonel’s daughter’s wedding. The two forge a doomed friendship in the lawless city, behind enemy lines.
Michelle De Krester has piled up loads of awards with her 2013 novel, Questions of Travel, set in civil war-torn Sri Lanka and Australia. Its two protagonists are Laura, who writes for a travel guide, and Ravi, whose life has been torn asunder by the brutal murder of his wife and child. Their lives eventually intertwine, but a tsunami intervenes. After concluding you question how ethical the roles played by some NGOs are, and shake your head at the astonishing hoops refugees need to jump through to find asylum in Australia.
Baz Lurman’s movie The Great Gatsby spurred us on to a re-read of the great American novel it was based off of, written in 1925 by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was good to reacquaint ourselves with Nick, Jay and Daisy all over again. Most of us even liked the movie.
Our Vietnamese contingent was insistent that we include Vietnamese author Ho Anh Thai’s new short story anthology, Nguoi Ben Nay, Troi Ben Ay. They’ve been orally translating some of the stories about Vietnamese expats living around the world who still hanker for tradition. The one about the old Scandinavian woman who sneaks out for dog meat and shrimp sauce whenever she returns to visit her Hanoian relatives gave us a real taste for a print translation.
Anyone with a penchant for totally dysfunctional — albeit wealthy — families shouldn’t miss out on AM Homes’s 2013 Orange Prize-winning May We Be Forgiven. Most of us hated her characters for half the story, but in the end just didn’t want to say goodbye to them.
This year’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, is all about the adventures of North Korean orphan, spy, and prisoner Pak Jun Do, who, like all his fellow orphans, is named after a martyr who sacrificed himself for his country. It’s a dystopian novel that deserves to be on equal footing with Brave New World. It’s one of the biggest books of the year.
Everyone who loved The Poisonwood Bible — like all of us did — won’t be disappointed with Barbara Kingsolver’s latest, Flight Behavior. In it, she takes on the contentious issue of climate change and the issues that drive denial and belief. It revolves around the unexpected migration and extinction of monarch butterflies, a mistaken belief in miracles and the crazy world of commercial exploitation.
Hilary Mantel’s 2012 Man Booker Prize-winner, Bring Up The Bodies, follows the last days of Anne Boleyn, as Henry the Eighth is determined to have her executed and replaced as queen by plain Jane Seymour. It leaves you longing for the third in the series, to find out if Thomas Cromwell gets his deserts. Mantel is described as the greatest English prose writer working today.
Our final alphabetical choice is the 2009 novel The Museum of Innocence, by Nobel Literature Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk of Turkey. Our intrepid touristy member, who visited Istanbul this year, insisted we read it and told us that Pamuk has established an actual museum there containing all of the items mentioned in the novel — in honour of all who harbour obsessive collecting tendencies. She also says that once you read the novel and visit the city, the places so vividly described in the book’s 1975 scenario come to life in vivid technicolour.
For more information on Bookworm go to bookwormhanoi.com. Besides their original store on Chau Long, Bookworm have a second, smaller shop in Nghi Tam Village in the West Lake area. Located behind the Sheraton and in the same alley as VilaTom Coffee, it can be found at Lane 1/28 Au Co, Lang Nghi Tam, Tay Ho