My two latest reads for the South West Reading Passport include Asia and South America with Bel Canto by Anne Patchett and The Jewel of the Medina by Sherry Jones. Very different stories from female writers (I didn’t pick them for that reason but it’s interesting to note that both books have very strong female characters) set in completely different time periods and in different locations.
Here’s my video review of both books, giving a quick summary of how I felt about them:
Bel Canto by Anne Patchet
In a poor Southern American country (which is never named) a grand party is held for a Japanese businessman in the hope that he will invest in production within their borders. Terrorists arrive aiming to take the President hostage but he has missed the event so instead a stalemate begins where they attempt to keep control of as many hostages as possible and keep the outside world at bay. Every character in this story is well characterised and this is impressive considering how many characters there are. There’s even a Doctor who does very little and is one of the first hostages to be released but even he is given a thought process and character that makes him seem real. And the personalities that are left as hostages for months are slowly revealed to us through the trails they face. What I loved most about this book (and I would highly recommend it) was the slow, creeping normality that was brought to a strange situation. It plays out very convincingly that the hostages simply can’t maintain a constant level of terror and that the terrorists can’t help but allow enough comforts for a new kind of life to emerge. For amazing characters and a beautiful story, I’d recommend this book.
Jewel Of The Medina By Sherry Jones
Following the life of the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammed, this is very much a story about her rather than the struggles of early Islam. It presents her early life as a promised bride to the prophet at the age of 6 and how this keeps her virtually trapped in her home. It presents the fear associated with arranged marriages, though how accurate this is I couldn’t say. She is terrified of being married and being trapped but simultaneously craves being a warrior and protecting other women. This element of her character plays out very well, especially when she comes to accept how little chance there is for her achieving this. The interactions between the other wives is also very interesting but I can’t help but feel like this whole novel takes a romantic view as well as some pretty serious artistic licence. When I looked into this book it turns out that opinions from the Muslim community are pretty seriously divided, so I wouldn’t use this novel as a true representation of this time.
Only got a few reads left for my South West Reading Passport and I’ll have circumvented the globe through literature!