Like everyone else, I suspect, I spent most of March obsessively reading minute-by-minute news updates on COVID-19. But being under curfew here in Belgrade left me with lots of time for other reading too.
From Brazilian short stories of lesbian love to time-worn Slavic folk tales, via a dystopian vision of Britain after a military coup, here’s a summary of the books I read in March.
The Essential Jung: Selected Writings, edited by Anthony Storr
I’ve always admired Jung’s writing and wide-ranging psychological theories, but it’s been a while since I wrote about him on the blog—well, 12 years, actually! So I enjoyed this collection, which consists of short extracts from lots of different works, grouped by subject matter, and with useful introductions by Anthony Storr. It’s a great way to get an overall sense of the major currents of Jung’s thought.
Amora by Natalia Borges Polesso
This was a beautiful collection of short stories about love between women, in a wide variety of forms. It won lots of literary awards in Brazil a few years ago, and the English translation is due for publication next month. Read my review of Amora here.
Amritsar 1919: An Empire of Fear and the Making of a Massacre by Kim A. Wagner
I’d heard about the Amritsar massacre in general terms as one of the most shameful moments of the British Empire, but never knew the details before. This book lays out a very detailed background, using a variety of primary sources to show what led to the massacre and then to examine its aftermath. British history tends to describe the massacre as a shameful aberration by a single officer, but this book puts it in its proper context as part of a wider project of colonial violence.
The Social Life of DNA by Alondra Nelson
Alondra Nelson, a sociologist at the Institute for Advanced Study, looks at the various ways in which African-Americans have used DNA to trace their connections back to Africa, and how that affects identity and race relations in America. It was a fascinating story that gave me a greater understanding of the possibilities—and limitations—of DNA analysis.
Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology by André Gorz
André Gorz was a prominent French intellectual of the late twentieth century, and the only book I’d read by him before was Letter to D, his moving message to his terminally ill wife. So I wanted to read this book about his thought. In many ways, he was ahead of his time—although he was writing in the early 1990s, the book felt very contemporary with its discussions of how to deal fairly with a reduced demand for labour, how to build an ecologically sustainable society, the case for a universal basic income, etc. The disappointment was that this was a collection of essays written at different times, so it didn’t feel like a very coherent whole.
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Back in the days when we could still travel (was it really only a few weeks ago?), Genie and I listened to this in the car, and it was the perfect companion. It tells the intertwined stories of two Irish-American families across two generations, dealing with mental illness and alcoholism and a horrific incident one night that threatens to overshadow the lives of both families. If it sounds depressing, it’s not at all—as the title suggests, it’s actually quite an uplifting look at the ways we survive and deal with life’s difficulties and still find the ability to say “yes.”
Myths and Folk-Tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and Magyars by Jeremiah Curtin
One of the few good things about Amazon is that it makes lots of very obscure old books available to read either free or very cheaply as ebooks. The quality is very variable, though. This one was OK, but the stories were quite limited and repetitive, often just slightly different versions of the same basic tale. Even with my limited knowledge of folk tales, I know of plenty of Russian stories that were not included, so I found the selection quite strange, and although there were some interesting stories in here, I wouldn’t recommend it overall.
In the Name of Truth by Viveca Sten
While the rest of the world has been reading Scandinavian crime fiction for years, this was my first foray. It’s the story of a boy who goes missing from a sailing camp, and also of a financial fraud trial that may or may not be connected to his disappearance. It’s all quite cleverly woven together and kept me turning the pages. Watch out for my review in the next few days as part of the virtual Quai du Polar festival being run by Emma and Marina Sofia. If you like crime fiction, there’s still time to join in—check their sites for more details.
The Disappeared by Amy Lord
The scary thing about The Disappeared is how plausible it sounds for the army to take control in Britain after a false flag terrorist attack and establish a brutal regime of lawless violence in the name of security. The novel follows a young woman who gets drawn into a rebel conspiracy. Think Nineteen Eighty-Four for the 21st century, although not quite so bleak as Orwell’s dystopia.
I always hate to pick just one book each month—which begs the question of why I do it. Not sure… Anyway, in keeping with tradition, I’ll pick Amritsar 1919, despite the strong claims of so many of the other books.
Overall, it was a very good month of reading for me. Books, as usual, were the lifeboats I ran for when things got tough outside. I hope you all stay safe this month, find some good lifeboats of your own, and let’s not forget to sing as we wait for land to appear on the horizon.
Wherever you are, please say “hi”, let me know your favourite reads of the month or your thoughts about anything else, and visit someone else’s blog to make a new connection. We’re only as isolated as we allow ourselves to be.