Book review: No One Writes to the Colonel

You can’t eat hope, but it sustains you.

Unlike One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, this is a rather short and uncomplicated novel. There is a limited number of characters and the beauty of the story relies more on the feelings it evokes on the reader than any fantastic events unfolding.

An unnamed colonel awaits every Friday for over 15 years for his pension which he earned as a young man fighting for his country. Meanwhile, he lives in poverty and struggles to feed himself, his wife and a rooster, his sole connection with his dead son. His son was preparing the rooster for a cock fight when he has killed by the government for distributing seditious literature. Ironically, the Coronel pins his hopes on that same government rewarding him for his past service, while continuing to distribute seditious literature after his son death.

The rooster is all he has and his hope for sustenance while he waits for his pension. But he still has to make it through the winter with no income, a sick wife and frail health. This is a sad tale of poverty, dignity and hope, for hope is all the colonel has to make it through another Friday, waiting for a pension that never comes.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Veredict: Buy, buy, now!

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How to get free copies of new book releases

There are, basically, four ways to get your hands on ARCs (Advanced-Reading-Copies) of upcoming book releases.

One way is becoming a social media influencer. If you are following #Bookstagram on Instagram, at one point it seems like everyone is getting free books from publishers. However, this is part of publishers’ marketing campaign to boost sales of new releases, so to be part of it you’ll need to have a meaningful amount of followers. The amount needed would vary depending on where you are located; the US is a bigger market (with a large amount of book-bloggers) so you’ll need more followers than say Egypt or the UAE to get free ARCs.

If you know any authors, they can provide you with free copies in exchange of an honest review. This is particularly true of new authors, authors signed with smaller publishing houses or self-publishing their debut novel. Of course, this is easier to be done is smaller towns or abroad in places with a tight expat community. The good thing about social media is that it provides you an opportunity to connect with authors in a way that traditional book tours cannot.

You could also try your luck with giveaways. Publishers, authors and social media influencers usually hold contests on Instagram or Goodreads where you can enter to win a free copy and some bookish merchandise. Keep your reyes open for book tours on Instagram and follow publishers like Penguin, Harper-Collins, Doubleday, Torteen and Little Brown to learn about their giveaways.

Lastly, there is a new program by Penguin Random House where you can get e-copies of upcoming releases. It’s only available for US residents, though. It’s called First To Read. Basically, you sign up in http://www.firsttoread.com and select your favorite genres. Once a month, Penguin offers you the chance to enter in a draw for a copy of new releases. You earn points every time you interact with the program, like entering draws for books, posting reviews or simply reading excerpts. Those points can be used to guarantee yourself an advanced copy. What is really cool about it is how equalizing this opportunity is; you needn’t be an influencer or know any authors. It is perfect for newcomers to #bookstagram looking to get a sneak peek into new releases.

Any way you choose, I wish you happy reading.

Book review: The Question of Red

All telling is retelling, and therefore it is fiction.

I am not one to like romance. I hesitated before starting this book, but the fact that it was by an Indonesian women author (never read one before), and set against a controversial time in history that I knew nothing about sold it for me.

This is the story of Amba, a young woman with a name that comes with a dark faith. In the Mahabharata (and I am judging by how the story is told in this book, since I have never read the Mahabharata), there is the story of Amba, a woman who is set to marry King Salwa when she is kidnaped by Bhisma, the warrior. Stockholm syndrome or not, she ends up falling in love with her captor. He eventually, sends her back to King Salwa in order for her to have a better life, but Salwa doesn’t want her back as she has been “dishonored”. She goes back to Bhisma and begs him to marry her but he refuses, as he has sworn celibacy. She then spends her life bitter and seeking revenge. She will reincarnate and marry prince Arjuna (who may or may not be a foreigner depending on the version of the story) and joins him in battle annihilating Bhisma. She gets her revenge and shows her strong and independent character. With that name and her thirst for independence, will she be doomed to suffer the same fate as the mythical Amba? Amba has to figure that out and go through the pains of fighting for your identity, against self-doubt and jealousy and the pains of her first love in the midst of the Indonesian communist purge of 1965.

I ended up liking this book much more than I thought I would. I particularly liked that the author herself translated it into English. That makes it so much more personal and makes me feel more confortable with the translation. I also loved that she took a story from the Mahabharata and wrote a contemporary novel around it. I don’t like retellings, but she aced this one (I think, again, haven’t read the original). I liked that the characters were multi-dimensional, conflicted. I think Amba was a much more believable character than Bhisma, and I could totally relate to her self-doubt, insecurity and young approach to love. She reminded me what it felt like to be in my twenties. The fact that she is a feminist is a huge plus. The scenes in Buru are my favorite, they got a touch of suspense and magical realism. Finally, I liked the ending and that is something that is hard to pull off. It could have corny and awful, but the author kept it real.

On the other hand, I found the style puzzling. I don’t know if that is due to the translation or if the author was trying to keep the style simple and make it sound conversational. I just found the sentences either oddly short or run-ons. More than once you’ll find sentences like: “And yet.” Sometimes the language was poetic and sometimes too simple.

Overall, I liked it very much. I love a book that entertains and you learn something from it. I learned more about Indonesia reading this book than during my honeymoon in Bali. I give it ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️/5.

Book review: No one writes to the Colonel

You can’t eat hope, but it sustains you — No one writes to the colonel.

Unlike One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, this is a rather short and uncomplicated novel. There is a limited number of characters and the beauty of the story relies more on the feelings it evokes on the reader than any fantastic events unfolding.

An unnamed colonel awaits every Friday for over 15 years for his pension which he earned as a young man fighting for his country. Meanwhile, he lives in poverty and struggles to feed himself, his wife and a rooster, his sole connection with his dead son. His son was preparing the rooster for a cock fight when he has killed by the government for distributing seditious literature. Ironically, the Coronel pins his hopes on that same government rewarding him for his past service, while continuing to distribute seditious literature after his son death.

The rooster is all he has and his hope for sustenance while he waits for his pension. But he still has to make it through the winter with no income, a sick wife and frail health. This is a sad tale of poverty, dignity and hope, for hope is all the colonel has to make it through another Friday, waiting for a pension that never comes.

Book Review: Pearls of the Past

“Is this what everyone wears under their abayas?” the American asked, her blue eyes pools of wonder. “No,” Luluwa laughed. “On a normal day we wear pajamas.”

If you’ve ever lived in the Gulf, this book will definitely speak to you. If you are dreaming of a holiday in Dubai or just got that offer for your dream job in the Gulf that just sounds too good to be true, you should definitely pick up this book.

This is the sequel to Love Comes Later; a book I haven’t read but one doesn’t need to in order to follow the plot. It is the story of a Qatari guy named Abdulla who married his former fiancée’s best friend, Sangita (an American of Indian descent). But it is also the story of his extended family, his former fiancée and cousin Hind who is trying to make a name of herself in foreign service in a culture where that is not the norm; his teenage cousin Luluwa who is torn between her love for Abdulla’s late wife (who was her sister) and Sangita who has her as her only friend in town; and the family’s patriarch, grandpa Jassim and his deep dark secret. There is a little bit of everything in this book: fantasy, romance, action, exotic destinations and an awkward teenager to entice fans of YA.

I’ve been in the Middle East for 10 years, lived in three Gulf countries and visited them all (except for Kuwait) and I can tell you this book managed to summarize my expat experience in a witty and funny way. It filled me with nostalgia and brought a smile to my face. It is such a special feeling when you read a book where the characters eat where you ate, attend business meetings where you used to, and react to those rare glimpses of Khaleeji life in the same ways you have seen expats do again and again. I particularly felt connected with the fact that Sangita started an anonymous blog about life in Qatar (we’ve all been there) and struggles to find her place in a different culture. However, my favorite part of the book is Abdulla and Sangita’s wedding. I have been to local weddings in all Gulf countries I’ve lived and I can attest that the author really portrayed the clueless comments and expectations of westerners attending those events.

While I enjoyed the book, I found the pace of the book a bit odd. Three-fourths of the book go really slow, just introducing the characters and local culture. Suddenly, almost at the end, all the action unravels in a very fast way. I wished the author has extended this part a bit, introduced more suspense and basically, that the part of story set in India had been at least half of the book.

In any case, it was an enjoyable read that left me wanting to get my hands on its prequel.

Veredict: buy on Kindle or borrow it.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Disclaimer: I received this e-book free from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book review: Ten Women

It makes no sense to wait for the right moment because it never arrives. That moment doesn’t exist. – Mané

I usually don’t read works translated from Spanish, as it is my native language. However, I downloaded this book for free as part of Amazon’s international Book Day and it seemed like a good opportunity to become acquainted with a new author. Even though Marcela Serrano is an award-winning author, I had never heard of her. I must confess that my knowledge of Chilean literature was confined to Isabel Allende and Pablo Neruda, but I am sure happy I came across this book.

If God created a bit of flexibility in the world, it was women who stockpiled it. Men were left with nothing. They never change. Only with Prozac, if you can make them take it. – Simona

Natasha, a Belorussian-French psychiatrist raised in Argentina moves to Chile and ends up counseling a diverse group of women. She asks them to tell each other their stories in a group exercise. We encounter then the story of a widowed and impoverished actress, a Palestinian journalist, a rich TV anchor, a poor waxer, a lesbian teenager, middle class developer, a well-to-do feminist, a maid, an abused orphan and the psychiatrist herself. The author does a poor job in tying the stories, it seems forced and amateurish but the stories themselves are fascinating. In each of these stories we find the struggle of women to survive, to fight personal drama and to find love. I was particularly touched by the story of a woman who had a daughter with mental illness and an incapacitated mother who worked as a waxer and barely could make ends meet. If it wasn’t enough she was trapped in a toxic relationship which she couldn’t escape ‘cause it was her only solace from the drama at home. I was also terribly shocked and moved by the story of a young Muslim journalist, descendant of Palestinians, who travels to Gaza to find herself and ends up losing it all. This a beautiful book about women struggles that even those apathetic to feminism (even though no one should be) will find endearing. You will learn more about Latino culture reading this book than any of Allende’s novels (no matter how beautiful they might be).

Veredict: Buy on kindle or borrow it.

Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5.

Book Review: A River In Darkness

You don’t choose to be born. You just are. And your birth is your destiny, some say. I say the hell with that. And I should know. I was born not just once but five times. And five times I learned the same lesson. Sometimes in life, you have to grab your so-called destiny by the throat and wring its neck.

North Korea is a dark place where its citizens are starved to submission. That’s what the media always tell us. How true is that? What does it feel to live there?

Masaji Ishikawa, a Japanese-Korean émigré who lived in North Korea for over 30 years, tells us his story in this book. Basically, he was born in a rural area in Japan from a Japanese mother and a South Korean father (back when there was only one Korea). His father was forced to go to Japan as a teenager during Japanese invasion of Korea. After WW2, he was stranded in Japan. Koreans, as it happens with large immigrant populations, were looked down on in Japan. Lack of education, opportunities and growing up in a hostile environment probably contributed to Masaji’s dad becoming an abusive, violent and stranged husband and father. In the 1960s North Korea is looking for immigrants to work in developing the country and increase its propaganda in Korea, promising jobs, education and a bright future. This is a sweet promise for Koreans living in Japan who are poor and cannot possibly afford higher education (and thus, a way out of poverty) to their kids. Masaji’s dad bites the bait and moves his family to North Korea, a place where he’s never been nor knows anyone.

All returnees are eyed with suspicion, since they can break the bubble and teach North-Koreans the holes and blatant lies in government’s propaganda. Being a Japanese family is even worse (after all, Japanese domination of the peninsula was recent history). So, the family is placed in the poorest location in rural North Korea mandated to be farmers (the poorest strata of society) and condemned to a life of hard labor and poverty. Masaji takes through his life and challenges to survive for over 30 years and in the midst of the country’s greatest famine in history. His tale is full of hope, disappointments and sadness. Like all immigrants, looking for a better future for his loved ones, he escapes North Korea by crossing the river to China.

If you like Hollywood-kind-of endings, this book will be a disappointment. It is more like the story of Job than anything you may watch on TV. For me, that made it powerful and real.

However, since Masaji only had an elementary school education (and a bad one for that matter), editors must have had a hard time putting this book into shape. The language is simple but it is well written. It is not a work of literature, but a sad story told in simple words, thus very relatable and believable.

Veredit: Buy. It may help to put the news into context. Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️/5