A World of Books
Updated: Jan 15
Hello book lovers! With the arrival of new book stocks and Philip's visit, I was kept quite busy the past few weeks. Philip and I discussed a lot of new ideas for the Barefoot Bookshop that I am very excited to be working on in the coming new year. He seemed happy with what I had done so far and was especially pleased with my map idea that I have been dying to share with you. Let me tell you about it.
During the interview process for this job, I researched the literary world and came across a Ted Talk by Anna Morgan ‘My year reading a book from every country in the world’. After looking at her bookshelf and realising that there was a massive cultural blind spot in her reading as the majority of the books were written by British or North American authors, she decided to take on the project to read a book from every country of the world.
On her website, ‘A Year of Reading the World’ she documented how she read a book from 196 independent countries and the effort that went into finding a book from each country. Undoubtedly, she struggled to find books from some countries, but her project had gained quite a bit of popularity which meant that the followers of her blog helped her with recommendations and finding translations. This seemed like such a brilliant and inspiring idea that I could not help but scrawl it on my bullet journal as a new year goal: to read more widely and globally. What an excellent way to discover new authors and learn about the world!
The Maldives was one country she struggled with finding a book. But in the end, she chose to read the translated story of Dhonhiyala & Alifulhu. Here is an excerpt from her blog: “This is a book of new beginnings. I lost track of the number of times that characters abandoned their old homes and habits and struck out to set up a new life on a different island. From Raaveri Ali – who, having lost his family because of a rival’s curse, gets on a boat for Komandu island, leaving no trace of himself behind on Maroshi ‘even his smell’ – to his son Moosa, who runs off to live in Malé, the idea of clean breaks drives much of the narrative. This can be disconcerting, particularly when we see how quickly old loves and lives are forgotten, but it also gives rise to great ingenuity. The child Moosa, for example, sets himself up as a Koran tutor in the capital, earning the money that will enable him to start afresh. Indeed, the narrative seems to be shaped as much by the nation’s island geography as by its characters’ desires, and moves in fits and starts between one colourful episode and the next.
All in all, though, this is a fascinating book – and one quite different from anything I’ve read before. It sparkles with insights and humour drawn from a time and place quite different from our own. If some of the storytelling techniques and actions of the earlier characters have a distancing effect, the love affair between Dhon Hiyala and Ali Fulhu is utterly believable and engrossing when it comes. Enchanting.”
When I first entered the bookshop and set it up, it felt like home right away. A sanctuary. But I was trying to think of something more engaging, something that everyone could be a part of. In hospitality, a personal touch no matter how small is always appreciated. When people travel, they are almost always looking for a souvenir to reminisce on memories of their holiday in a faraway land or to leave their mark in a foreign land like the padlocks of love on Pont des Arts in Paris. I once visited a small café in Grimsby, England, where they had a world map for you to leave your fingerprint on the part of the world you come from.
Inspired by all this, the idea for ‘A World of Books’ was born. The idea was to have a world map in the bookshop where guests can come in and pin book recommendations from their countries. I pitched this idea to Lisa, our Innovation and Quality Manager, who immediately approved it. So, we got to work right away!
I would like to say a special thank you to our Engineering Team Lead, Kapil for bringing my idea to life and the way he has beautifully captured what I had envisioned. The map was designed and created in-house by Kapil and his special engraving machine (which truly does wonders).
The map was a work was in progress when Philip arrived. When I showed it to him and explained my idea behind it, we had a ‘great minds think alike’ moment when he told me that it reflected Ultimate Library’s new project ReadWhatWhere which help you ‘travel the world with intelligent book recommendations, country by country and page by page’ which I had no idea about until that point. How amazing is that?
I have had the map up for a week now, which brings in a lot of interesting conversations with people from different parts of the world. Just like Anna Morgan, I realised how narrow my reading scope was, and just like her, I am determined to change that with the help of people who visit the bookshop! I have already had some great book recommendations from a few countries which I would like to share with you here:
Russia: We - Yevgeny Zamyatin
The exhilarating Russian dystopian novel of totalitarian mass surveillance that inspired George Orwell’s 1984.
In a glass-enclosed city of absolute straight lines, ruled over by the all-powerful “Benefactor,” the citizens of the totalitarian society of OneState live out lives devoid of passion and creativity—until D-503, a mathematician who dreams in numbers, makes a discovery: He has an individual soul.
Set in the twenty-sixth century AD, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We is the archetype of the modern dystopia and the forerunner of works such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Suppressed for many years in Russia, it details the fate that might befall us all if we surrender to some collective dream of technology, and remains a resounding cry for individual freedom. Clarence Brown’s brilliant translation is based on the corrected text of the novel, first published in Russia in 1988 after more than sixty years’ suppression.
India: A New Idea of India - Harsh Gupta & Rajeev Mantri
For the better part of seven decades after independence, the Nehruvian idea of India held sway in India's polity, even if it was not always in consonance with the views of Jawaharlal Nehru himself. Three key features constituted the crux of the Nehruvian way: socialism, which in practice devolved to corruption and stagnation; secularism, which boxed citizens into group membership and diluted individual identity; and non-alignment, which effectively placed India in the Communist camp.
In the early nineties, India started a gradual withdrawal from this path. But it was only in 2019, with Narendra Modi’s second successive win in the general elections, that this philosophy is finally being replaced by a worldview that acknowledges India as an ancient civilisation, even if a young republic, and that sees citizens as equal for developmental and other purposes. A New Idea of India constructs and expounds on a new framework beyond the rough and tumble of partisan politics.
Lucid in its laying out of ideas and policies while taking a novel position, this book is illuminated by years of research and the authors’ first-hand experiences, as citizens, entrepreneurs and investors, of the vagaries and challenges of India.
Denmark: Out of Africa - Karen Blixen
Karen Blixen's Out of Africa is the lyrical and luminous memoir of Kenya that launched a million tourist trails, beautifully repackaged as part of the Penguin Essentials range. 'I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills . . . Up in this high air you breathed easily . . . you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.'From the moment Karen Blixen arrived in Kenya in 1914 to manage a coffee plantation, her heart belonged to Africa. Drawn to the intense colours and ravishing landscapes, Blixen spent her happiest years on the farm, and her experiences and friendships with the people around her are vividly recalled in these memoirs. Out of Africa is the story of a remarkable and unconventional woman, and of a way of life that has vanished forever. There is also a movie based on the book starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.
Germany: Der Schwarm (The Swarm) - Frank Schätzing
Whales begin sinking ships. Toxic, eyeless crabs poison Long Island's water supply. The North Sea shelf collapses, killing thousands in Europe. Around the world, countries are beginning to feel the effects of the ocean's revenge as the seas and their inhabitants begin a violent revolution against mankind. In this riveting novel, full of twists, turns, and cliffhangers, a team of scientists discovers a strange, intelligent life force called the Yrr that takes form in marine animals, using them to wreak havoc on humanity for our ecological abuses. Soon a struggle between good and evil is in full swing, with both human and suboceanic forces battling for control of the waters. At stake is the survival of the Earth's fragile ecology -- and ultimately, the survival of the human race itself.
Austria: Die Abenteuer Des Joel Spazierer (The Adventures of Joel Strollers) - Michael Köhlmeier
‘I never had the ambition to become a good person'.
Joel Spazierer, born in Budapest in 1949, grew up with his grandparents and was four years old when they were picked up by Stalin's thugs. He spends five days alone in the apartment and gets to know a world without people.
Joel Spazierer never understands what is good and what is bad. His appearance, his charm, his friendliness opens every heart to him. He lies, steals and murders, changes his name and pursues his criminal career in many European countries. A great novel about the dark sides of our society.
Barbados: Murders That Shocked Barbados - Kim L. Ramsay
Murders that shocked Barbados is a gripping historical narrative of some of the most horrific murders to occur in Barbados. Going as far back as 1933, it captures close to 80 years of a dark history of Barbados where such homicides as the cane field murders of the 1970s and 1980s terrified Barbadians.
It starts with the 1933 murders of five persons in Haggatts in St Andrew by a single individual and also details some other unsolved murders in Barbados, including the well-known Pele case and the Gillian Bayne murder, which shook the island to its core and have mystified law enforcement for decades. The book also outlines one of the most tragic events in recent history - the Campus Trendz robbery and murder. Written by criminologist Kim Ramsay, it unravels a dark part of Barbadian history and then concludes with motives behind homicides. It also outlines the plight of those left behind: the survivors of these tragedies.
I hope you enjoyed these book recommendations by our guests. Please do send me your recommendations wherever you are in the world! I would love to add it to the list.