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Belletrista - A site promoting translated women authored literature from around the world


Holiday Gift Recommendations
By the Belletrista Contributors

Photo of books, candles and holiday ornament Depending on where you live and what holidays you celebrate it may be the time of year for you to do some holiday shopping. You've made your list of who to buy for and perhaps it's daunting. There's Uncle Charlie who hasn't moved from the couch since 1984 and your very picky sister who has to have everything just so. Somewhere on the list is your game-obsessed nephew and your fashionista niece.

Well, we can't help you with them, but we can help you bring the world to the readers on your list, whether it be for the December holidays, a June birthday, or another occasion (or perhaps you are shopping for yourself). While almost any book found in this or the previous issue of Belletrista would make a lovely gift, we asked some of Belletrista's contributors to make a few more suggestions:

For the reader who wants something humorous, whether that be subtly witty or good for a rollicking belly laugh...

Book Cover: Thoughts on Being a Woman Dorothy in New Zealand recommends Fabulous Thoughts on Being a Woman by Peta Mathias. "This is a hilarious look at the life and times of a very sassy older woman who has no intention of starting to behave just yet. She offers advice on relationships, food, travel, beauty and health among other things, while admitting that her own life has often teetered on disaster. It was first published in NZ, where Peta is a a well known celebrity foodwriter and television presenter, but it has subsequently been published by Mainstream (a branch of Random House in the UK) who realised that Peta's philosophy on life and love has wide appeal. The perfect gift for any woman over 30 who has no intention of aging gracefully, it should be delivered with a bottle of red wine or champagne.

Rachel in Poland suggests Before You Sleep by Linn Ullmann (Norway). "It's funny in a gentle, quietly amusing way rather than belly-laugh funny. It's the story of the Blom family, and of its women in particular, as told by Karin Blom, an endearing but spectactularly unreliable narrator who veers off into wild exaggeration without warning."

picture of wrapped book My Driver by Maggie Gee is certainly the funniest book I've read all year," says Kate in the US. "Her character, who is an endearingly neurotic and self-obssessed author, manages to commit an amazing amount of cultural faux pas when she attends a conference in Uganda. Also in the country, summoned by their former housekeeper to help with a charitable project, is her plumber ex-husband. The story is wonderfully witty, fast-paced, and suspenseful, and yet Gee has deftly woven a more serious tale within." A great read, best wrapped in African fabric obtainable easily from sources on the web.

I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere by Anna Gavalda is "a wonderfully witty collection of stories about love and longing in Paris," says Carolyn, "The humour is infectious!" Should be wrapped with a dashing scarf!

Carolyn also suggests A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo. "One can't help being utterly charmed by this tale of a wonderfully resourceful Chinese student who has ended up in London. With marvellous brio, she takes us along on a delightful journey of discovery." Included in the package could be an English-Chinese dictionary

Book Cover: Jar Jar Lifeboat Jane in sunny Florida suggests a "delicious little book of verse by the current U.S. Poet Laureate, Kay Ryan titled The Jam Jar Lifeboat and Other Novelties Exposed. Each of the poems is based on an entry in Ripley's Believe it or Not.

For the reader on your list who prefers something heady, challenging or thought-provoking...

"Ice Road by Gillian Slovo," says Carolyn, is "a striking and bold book about courage, betrayal and survival in Stalinist Russia."

Carolyn also recommends The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly. "A vital book about the brutality and corruption of the Burmese state and the beauty and desolation of those whose hearts resist. Quite stunning."

Western by French author Christine Montalbetti, says Rachel, is challenging because the "unconventional focus (the story consists mainly of all the tiny details which are usually filtered out of a story) and shifting perspective require the readers to pay attention!"

House of Day, House of Night by Polish author Olga Tokarczuk. "Reading this was like sipping brandy – heady, dreamy, and deserving of slow savoring," says Jane. Best given with a beribboned bottle of brandy.

Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller, 2009 Nobel Prize recipient. "This is an amazingly artful novel which conveys what it is like to live under a oppressive dictatorship (Romania) through not only its story, but in how it is written," explains Lois. Include in this package, a journal or Moleskine notebook. Decorate the wrapped package with buttons.

Book Cover: A Human Being Died That Night "If you want to do some serious thinking, this is the book to do it with: A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela," suggests Kathi. Born in a township and educated at Harvard, Gobodo-Madikizela served on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but her ability to forgive is tested by meeting the man known as "Prime Evil". Eugene de Kock was the apartheid government's commanding officer of death squads and torture camps. "The book is part memoir, part essay, ultimately a meditation on the nature of evil, of forgiveness, and of what it means to be human. Powerful and inspiring stuff, but quite manageable in only about 200 pages," explains Kathi. Wrap with a box of African red bush or Rooibos tea.

Carolyn suggests: A Game We Play by Simona Vinci. "The subject matter is incredibly disturbing, dealing as it does with children, pornography and sex, but this Italian bestseller of 1999 is powerfully written, with a deceptively simple and beautiful prose."

For the reader looking for an intelligent love story...

An Education by Lynn Barber, suggests Dorothy. "This is the book that has been turned into a movie by Nick Hornby, but the movie version only looks at the young Lynn's affair with an older man. The real love story appears later in the book when Lynn meets the man who will become her husband. It is a very honest memoir (warts and all) and a very beautiful "ordinary" love story. A box of tissues is definitely required with this memoir and a beautiful photo frame so that the recipient can display a photo of their own loved one."

Book Cover: Fair Play Fair Play by Tove Jansson, recommends Carolyn. "This is a love story in its purest form, told with humour and respect. It is gentle and simple, yet has the power to knock you out with its beauty."

Rachel and Kate both suggest: The Idea of Perfection by Australian author Kate Grenville. "This is not an air-brushed Hollywood romance," says Rachel, "but a story about the haltingly-developing love between two middle-aged people – gauche, awkward, unattractive, very human people." "It's the oddest love story I've ever read," says Kate."The mannish Harley Savage and the jug-eared Douglas Cheeseman are two very imperfect people and their foil in this story is the very, very perfect Fecility Porceline ..." The book is best given wrapped in an a piece of old quilting, or a piece of red plastic tablecloth.

picture of chilies Joyce in Vancouver, Canada recommends Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (Mexico) "I loved this book so much when I read it. I went through it all in one sitting, and just sat and smiled when I finished it. The next morning I went out and bought everything I needed to cook up a grand Mexican meal." Tita cannot have Pedro, so she pours out her passion for him into her cooking which makes those who eat it feel what she feels. Include in this gift, a DVD of the movie adaptation, a box of good Mexican chocolate or, better yet, one of those new dark chocolate bars with hot peppers in it. Decorate the package with red chili peppers!

For the man who has everything (except perhaps woman-authored literature in his library):

Any red-blooded man (or woman), says Kathi, should enjoy The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney, a Scottish writer who has imagined the rigors of Canadian pioneer life in 1987. There's murder, fierce weather, mystery and adventure galore in this tale peopled by a great crowd of complicated and compelling characters. Oh, and there are wolves, too.

Book Cover: The Hunter Lois recommends The Hunter by Australian author Julia Leigh. "Leigh provides a riveting portrait of a man in search of the allegedly last Tasmanian tiger. When and if he finds it, he has been instructed to kill it and take samples of its genetic material, but the prey, if it exists at all, is elusive."

Best wrapped with packages of dried fruit and beef jerky. "This Human Season by Louise Dean is a very human account of a flashpoint in the Northern Ireland conflict," says Carolyn. "Very moving, and at times hilariously funny, this is an extraordinary book that shines a light on a terribly complex, brutal and tragic time."

Dorothy suggests, Ten Degrees of Reckoning by Hester Rumberg. This is an incredible survival story about an American family whose yacht was destroyed by a Korean freighter just off the coast of New Zealand. Judith Sleavin, the mother, was the only family member to survive, and she was determined to bring those responsible for the tragedy to account. This is an adventure yarn, a tale of survival and a story about one woman's fight for justice. Anything nautical, even a minature ship in a bottle, could accompany this title.

For a reader looking to be transported:

Book Cover: Mosquito "I love Tearne's evocative language and her ability to sweep the reader into her created world," says Joyce about Mosquito by Roma Tearne (Sri Lanka), which is also recommended by Rachel, Akeela and Kate. "I especially loved her juxtaposition of the exotic tropical Sri Lanka and the horrors of the civil war. While the novel is set during a brutal war, it shows love and beauty triumphing."

Kathi suggests: two DVDs bundled with two books from the Indian Subcontinent. Deepa Mehta's award-winning film "Earth" paired with the novel upon which it was based: Bapsi Sidhwa's classic Cracking India, a coming-of-age story set during the cataclysmic partition of India that created Pakistan. The second film would be Deepa Mehta's masterpiece film, "Water", accompanied by Bapsi Sidhwa's novel Water, this time based on the film. The set offers serious, powerful stories about women in history, for readers with a global sensibility.

Just Like Tomorrow is the debut novel of 19-year old French writer, Faïza Guène, of Algerian parentage. The narrator is the delightful 15-year-old Doria who paints a vivid picture of life in the run-down high-rise area, north of Paris, populated by struggling immigrants from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Her telling is matter-of-fact, but very engaging. It's touching and also quite funny, says Akeela.

Book Cover: The Character of Rain Clemente likes the idea of "bundling" several books by one author together as "a gift for those who like to complete their collections." She recommends a gift which bundles together the work of Chilean author Isabel Allende, to include: Ines of my Soul, The House of Spirits, Portrait in Sepia and Eva Luna. "This will give one a wide range of her works while combining her very well known family, multi-generational sagas and also giving a taste of her newest work, a fantastic historical take on a woman making a life in the new world." Her other recommendation would be a bundling of Belgian author Amélie Nothomb's works to include: Tokyo Fiancée, Loving Sabotage, Fear and Trembling, and The Character of Rain. "I love the idea of combining all of her available-in-English semi-autobiographical works," says Clemente. Full of wit and charm that will make you travel the globe and so clever too that I think it's perfect for those cold afternoons you have to yourself over the holidays."

"I adored Like Nowhere Else by Denyse Woods. Vivien Quish is a would-be travel writer who has always dreamt of visiting the mystical city of Sana'a [in Yemen]. On getting there she is surprised by the rigid heat and whirling dust, but she relishes the city, and unexpectedly finds love in the desert. The writing is mesmerising. And the detail of the magical city, its people and culture is a treat," says Akeela.

The Hero's Walk by Anita Rau Badami transports one to a dusty town in India where Sripathi lives with his crotchety, caste-conscious mother, Ammayya and wife, Nirmala. They have a daughter, Maya, in Vancouver who has been denounced by her father because she married an American man. He even refuses to acknowledge his grandchild, Nandana. Then Maya and Alan are killed and Sripathi has to fetch the orphaned 7-year-old, Nandana, from Canada, to join the family in India. The writing is lovely and one can taste and smell the Indian air and its surrounds. Although the subject matter is weighty, the writing isn't. There were many passages that were beautifully written, and there's a generous sprinkling of humor throughout. Recommended by Akeela, Tui and Lois.

For a reader looking for a coming-of-age story:

Book Cover: Women in Black A bottle of some classic perfume, Chanel No 5 or Miss Dior, would go well with The Women in Black by Madeleine St. John, suggests Dorothy. First published in 1993 by 4th Estate, it has just been reprinted by Text Australia. It is about a young girl's first job in an elegant department store in Sydney during the late 1950s. She is keen to go on to university but her parents have their doubts about the value of higher education for girls. The girl's fascination with lives of the other 'women in black' who work at the store is an important part of this gentle, nostalgic coming-of-age story.

Carolyn suggests Gifted by Nikita Lalwani. "Growing up as part of a strict Indian family in Wales can't be easy, especially if your talents are appropriated by an overbearing father. Rumi, the teenage heroine of this book, is a delight. What a charming book this is!" Include a curry recipe and small bottles of Indian spices from your local South Asian market.

Book Cover: Nervous Conditions Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is "a quick read, set in Nigeria and told from the viewpoint of 15-year-old Kambili," explains Akeela. "What was delightful, besides the writing, was the innocence of Kambili, who is absolutely cloistered by her controlling and authoritative dad. Very sweet and poignant at times."

Also recommended, 26a by Diane Evans. This story of adolescent twins growing up in Nigeria and the UK is magnificent. Fascinating, warm, intense and sad, it is sure to move you.

Akeela, Lois and Rachel also recommend: Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. This is a wonderful novel set in the former Rhodesia during the '60s and told from the perspective of the aspirant young Tambudzai, who gets the rare opportunity to acquire an education when her only brother dies. Rachel said, "it's one of those books that really opens your eyes to another place, another culture, another way of living."

For the reader who prefers a mystery or a bit of suspense:

Rachel recommends the Michael Ohayon mystery series (police procedurals) by Israeli writer Batya Gur, translated from the Hebrew. The first is The Saturday Morning Murder but it doesn't matter if you don't start with it (I didn't), and there are 5 more, all in print. Worth reading just to spend time with charismatic, cultured, gentle detective Ohayon. Moroccan-born outsider Ohayon is the perfect guide to Israel, and what's more, his investigations always lead to a closed society of some kind (kibbutz, group of pyschoanalysts, tightly-knit neighbourhood) which the reader learns about alongside the detective.

Book Cover: The Chalk Circle Man There's nothing more satisfying than a juicy series of crime novels that are well written and have lots of volumes already on the market, says Carolyn. Those who don't yet know the works of Fred Vargas are in for a treat! Titles include The Chalk Circle Man, Seeking Whom He May Devour, Have Mercy on Us All, Wash this Blood Clean from my Hand and This Night's Foul Work (also recommended by Maggie). Best packaged with a bottle of moderately-priced French wine.

Åsa Larsson has embarked on a series of dark and gritty crime novels set in the snowy wastes of Northern Sweden. Chilling and atmospheric, this is Scandinavian crime writing at its finest! Titles include Sun Storm (US) / The Savage Altar (UK), The Blood Spilt and The Black Path. Recommended by both Carolyn and Kate.

Kate suggests the Icelandic mysteries of Yrsa Sigurdardáttir beginning with Last Rituals. Her second book, My Soul to Take is reviewed in this issue. "Besides the bits on Icelandic culture and history, these mysteries feature a very credible, busy lawyer (who is also a mother of two) who must solve the mystery often without the obvious information that the police have. Could be packaged with a sheep's head (and Icelandic delicacy)," quipped Kate, "but one might have difficulty finding one and it might not keep well!"