One of my favorite parts about traveling is having extra time to read interesting books. When I travel, I usually try to pick at least one book that is relevant to where I am going to be. I read some great books in July and all but one of them were fiction.
The White Tiger(review), by Aravind Adiga, Time magazine’s Asia correspondent, is a look at both parts of India: The Light emerging technological power that serves as the backbone for many multinational companies and the rural, poverty stricken Darkness. Its main character starts out living in rural poverty, the son of a rickshaw puller. He moves up the social and economic ladder through street smarts, entrepreneurship, good luck and old fashioned hard work, but the story is much more interesting than a traditional rags to riches story. Adiga puts the readers into the shoes of a poor man without options in such a way that by the end of the book, many readers completely understand why he makes choices that anyone not living in his situation would consider immoral.
Adiga writes in an unusual, but powerful style. The entire book is written as a letter to the Chinese Premier Wen Jaibo, but I quickly forgot this fact until Adiga reminded me at the beginning of each chapter or with a witty remark in the middle of a story. The White Tiger is well written and presents a side of India that I hadn’t really thought about. I have no idea if many of the stories that Adiga write about are actually based in fact, but either way, The White Tiger is an excellent book. Its sort of like a less sad version of The Kite Runner, but based in India instead of Afghanistan. I highly recommend it.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (review), by Junot Diaz, is another work of fiction that deals with the Dominican-American experience living in New Jersey and traces the origins of the Dominican movement to the United States. It follows the lives of a Dominican family from the days of the grandparents living under the Trujillato, The Trujillo Dictatorship, all the way to the grandson, Oscar who is a college student in New Jersey. Like the White Tiger, Oscar Wao is written in a very interesting style. It intermixes historical facts with lengthy, but entertaining footnotes and intersperses lots of Dominican slang (in Spanish of course). You do not need to understand Spanish to read the book, but it definently helps give you a better understanding of what the characters are thinking.
Diaz puts the reader in the shoes of each character, letting the reader have a brief look into Dominican life at different points throughout history. He writes with anger at the Trujillo regime, but with love for his native Dominican Republic. The book is interesting and well written and a fun read, but may not be for everyone. Diaz’s use of Spanish and copious amounts of science fiction/fantasy references might be a bit too much for some, but if you can get past it (or read the book with your browser open to google) you will enjoy it.
Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse Five had been on the top of my “to read” list for awhile now, but I had not gotten around to reading it. I ended up reading it on the train from Brussels to Amsterdam and then again in a park in Amsterdam, fairly close to the Germany and a battleground during the Second World War. The book is interesting, especially in the writing style, but I want to focus on Europe and WWII. It was amazing to read the book while on a train through the route that the Germans took to invade the Netherlands and then France. The farms and small towns would have been overrun by Germans in the 1940s, but now they are thriving parts of the Dutch and Belgian countryside. It was a struggle not to picture the German tanks in the fields, crushing all resistance in the early parts of the war and then the American and British armies beating them back in the later part of the war. Its amazing that Europe gets along so well now such a short time after such a devastating war. If you didn’t have to read Slaughterhouse Five in high school or college, check it out now. Its a fairly quick, but interesting, read.
Founding Brothers – Joseph Ellis. Founding Brothers focuses on the personal interactions between the revolutionary generation of American history. Ellis takes a non-traditional approach and makes the book more readable than most history books. My favorite short story was about the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton and the events leading up to it. Imagine if modern day politicians had to defend their honor against slanderous attacks with a duel. Maybe bloggers, the media and politicians themselves would have more accountability? I’m certainly not advocating for the return of the duel, but it would be pretty funny to see Dick Cheney (and his poor marksmanship) propose a duel against one of his political opponents.