One of the best things about traveling by myself is being able to spend days reading without having to talk to someone. I must have gone through about 12 books on my last hols. Fair few detectives (Jonathan Kellerman, Faye Kellerman, Ian Rankin, Michael Connely, Janet Evanovich, Henning Mankell) and a couple of 'proper books'. And good ones at that.
First I read Three Cups of Tea, the remarkable story of American mountaineer Greg Mortenson, who after an failed attempt to climb K2, started building schools for girls in northern Pakistan (that's a massive shortcut - read the book for the full story!). The story is about friendship, about courage and about rural Pakistan. It's very touching, and incredibly fascinating. Without being an expert, I also strongly believe how educating kids in these schools will help balance the indoctrination of poor kids in many of the Saudi-funded madrassas. His second book is on my Amazon wish list, I cannot wait to read it.
Next there was The Family Way, recommended by a friend. I'd heard of Tony Parsons of course, but had never read his books. I really enjoyed this novel about three sisters and their struggles around having kids. Sister 1 can't conceive, sister 2 does not ever want to be a mom (or does she) and sister 3 ends up pregnant after some fun between the sheets with an random Australian. Impressive how a man puts himself in women's shoes so well. And with humour too. Again, some of his other books are on my wish list.
Purple Hibiscus is Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's first novel. I read her second, Half of a Yellow Sun last year and loved it. I am glad I read than one first. Despite it being set in Nigeria's civil war, I found it less gruesome than Purple Hibiscus at times. That said, it is a fantastic debut. It tells the story of a 15 yo girl and her brother, who grow up in a wealthy, catholic Nigerian family. Their father is a religious fanatic and does the most awful things to them, emotionally and physically. In his eyes, he does them a favour punishing them for their sins as he helps them become good catholics. Her aunt and cousins show the reader another Nigeria. Working for the university, the aunt is struggling financially, but the happy household full of laughter is a world away from the one of the main character. Both come together and split again several times throughout the book. Read it for yourself. It's brilliant.
And I managed to save the best for last. The Lacuna is the first book I've read by Barbara Kingsolver. It's the story of a half Mexican, half American boy-grows-man who spends part of his teens and twenties with Frieda Kahlo, her painter husband, and the guests of their household, Trotsky being one of them. When he goes back to the US at some point, he becomes a very succesful novelist. Until his past catches up with him as J. Edgar Hoover's witch hunt for unamericanism gets him in trouble. The story slowly unfolds through the main character's notebooks and letters. The Lacuna is rich, colourful, and incredibly well written. Best book I've read in a while. Lucky I noticed it at Island Bookstore during a recent visit to Amsterdam!
And didn't I read anything rubbish? Oh yes. Number Ten, by Sue Townsend, a gift from a friend at my farewell party back in '08. The title refers to Downing Street. The Prime Minister is said to be too estranged from the people, and decides to travel the country, disguised as a woman. Worst book I read in ages. What a waste of time.