Looking for your next good read? Here’s a listing of our featured books from the past months. Happy reading! xoxo
My rating: ✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪
Synopsis: What makes a place happy? In a literal “pursuit of happiness”, we join NPR journalist Eric Weiner on a personal quest around the world from Iceland to Qatar to Bhutan in order to determine how happiness is achieved. Each chapter, focused on one specific nation, reads like a sociological-psychological-anthropological inquiry, all from a perspective doused in comedic cynicism.
After going for a year without picking a book, I knew my re-entry into the world of bibliophilia should be marked by a thinker: so why not tackle the long-thought-upon subject of finding happiness? And not only does this book address that, it does so through the lens of travel. Every time I finished a section, I began to understand more and more how one’s geographical location does indeed have a tremendous impact on one’s mental well-being. The people, the culture, and the physical environment that surround you — ultimately shape you. Upon finishing book, I honestly feel as if I’m seeing the world through a more understanding frame of mind.
Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald
My rating: ✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪
Synopsis: A decade ago, a guru prophesied Sarah MacDonald‘s inevitable return to India for love despite her vowing never to return. Now, she finds herself reeling as the prophecy comes to fruition with the love of her life beckoning her to relocate to India. Intense culture shock awaits MacDonald as she attempts, and sometimes fails miserably, at making sense of India’s eccentricities. As India grates at her ego and muddles her understanding of self, she turns to “the spiritual supermarket” in order to make meaning of her life.
This account does a brilliant job at showing how un-glamorous and downright absurd living abroad is at times. Nowadays, people tend to romanticize the expat life but MacDonald gave us the nitty-gritty when it comes to navigating an unfamiliar culture, especially one that is as jarring to the senses as India’s. Being in India now, her words have helped me with my own navigating. For example, the only way I knew to say no when being offered ‘bhang,’ (a marijuana shake) was because of a section detailing MacDonald’s one-time experience with bhang that ended with mild psychosis and vomiting. She remains candid throughout the book with her impressions of India and you can only respect her honesty as she comes to terms with how she changes over the course of two-year stint abroad. The language is comedic as it is vivid, with lots of laughs during and post-read just because you realized that she’s not being hyperbolic one bit. India is just as mad as she paints it to be and only with her honesty did I learn how to rein my frustrations when dealing with India’s incongruities as she was forced to. My only grip with the book was that the details became over excessive, which made some chapters drag and the narrative grow redundant. Otherwise, I have to compliment the cleverness of weaving stories that always gave closure to a reader searching for meaning in a sea of long-winded prose.
Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan
My rating: ✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪
Synopsis: What was supposed to be a short-term volunteering stint catapulted into a lifelong commitment to the children of Nepal. At the age of 29, Connor Grennan set out on a yearlong adventure around the world. He began his year volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal but after learning the distressing truth that the “orphans” were not really orphans at all — but children stolen from their homes by child traffickers — he embarked on a life-changing journey reuniting broken families. Facing seemingly insurmountable odds, Grennan braved the dangers of political turmoil and the treacherous Nepalese mountains to bring the children home.
I’m not one to knockdown preparatory reading before heading off on a trip but for me, had I read this book prior to visiting Nepal, I don’t think I would have appreciated as much. I began this read two weeks into my Nepal trip, after ten days of volunteering in a remote hilltop village outside of Kathmandu. Everything Grennan wrote about Nepal stands true. His choice of the words, though base, provide an in-depth look at the reality of the situation at hand. It really felt as if he was there narrating my own time in Nepal, especially with his shtick about getting served mountains of rice at every meal and having to force-feed himself for the sake of not appearing ungrateful in an environment engulfed in poverty. The narrative tackles the origin story of how he came to develop Next Generation Nepal, a non-profit that reconnects trafficked children with their families. What I enjoyed most about the story is that never loses its humanity. I mean, most memoirs about volunteering usually don’t cut it for me. They end up being too evangelical or embellished or even end up romanticizing the act of doing good. Then here’s an endearing story about this average joe who decides to sign up for a volunteering gig who unbeknownst to him, will end up turning his life around. He’s one of the few who does more than what is asked of him and ends up dedicating his life to attending to this great need of reuniting stolen children with their long-lost parents/relatives. There are so many obstacles against him and yet he never falters. You (as the reader) applaud him for his resilience and courage to fulfill his promise at all costs but one can’t help but empathize as he faces the reality of uncertainty in the undertaking of carrying out rescue missions in war-torn, destitute Nepal. I love how this one instance of goodwill resonates to the world-at-large in that the doing good is not as easy of a choice as people make it out to be. Read it and weep.
In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar
My rating: ✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪
Synopsis: Mia Alvar’s nine-piece short story collection details the lives of Filipinos in diaspora and in their own country during the time of martial law. A college student fantasizes about her brother’s life in the Middle East only to realize the fictionalization was not that far from reality. An exiled politician’s wife embraces her life abroad. A strong community of overseas workers in Doha are shaken by the arrival of a stranger. Even as the stories span the globe from the Middle East to the USA and returning home to the Philippines, the pieces are interwoven into anecdotes of those searching for a place to call home.
When I came across a book about the Filipino diaspora on Fathom’s Summer Reading List of 2015 , I was definitely intrigued. Rarely do you see fiction about the Philippines let alone on a popular literature list so there was no question I would have to read it. The diaspora motif is one that hits home for me as both of my parents immigrated to the States so each tale deeply resonated with me. But beyond feeling pangs of familiarity in the stories told, Mia Alvar is a master at her craft. I’m not big on short stories since I find the closure aspect usually very lacking but here are nine stories that sink in like a good, long read. Each piece is hefty and take present you with an intimate look into the lives of those who have love and lost as they search for meaning in their lives abroad. She offers an indiscriminate wealth of perspectives: from politicians to health workers, special needs instructors to college students. The Filipino experience abroad and at home have finally been given a voice and a powerful one at that as penned by Alvar. I felt exhausted after each tale having been invested in the protagonists’ journeys. The pieces were solid stand-alone but I preferred some more than others (hence the 9/10 rating.) For me, my favorite one was “Old Girl,” a supposition of Ninoy Aquieno’s time in Boston through the eyes of his wife, Corazon Aquino. In this story, Alvar stunningly writes about the married life in juxtaposition with running a marathon. The protagonist, an exceptionally strong feminist figure, must contend with her husband’s obvious displeasure with his life in-exile while she finds herself happily at home for once. While reading this on the road, I was instantly transported back home to Boston. This is the first time the Filipino experience abroad versus “in the country” has been brought to the forefront. I’m certain people across the globe who have felt any type of displacement will connect to the depth of this freshman writer’s richly imaginative prose.
Paris Letters by Janice Macleod
My rating: ✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪
Synopsis: “How much money does it take to change your life?” Unsatisfied with her life as she knows it, disgruntled accountant Janice MacLeod takes it upon herself to alter the course of her fate using this question as her guide. By cutting back not only on expenditures, but also material possessions, she frees herself from the day-to-day grind and embarks on a journey to Europe and ends up with the life she was meant for all along. In France, she meets a butcher who she pens a letter to – starting her journey to love and a way to be the artist she always dreamed of being.
I usually don’t read books like this one but as one of my New Year’s Resolutions, I decided to join the World of Wanderlust’s Book Club for 2016. The first book of the year happened to be this one. It was a surprisingly good and easy read although its chock full of cliches. For starters, there’s the premise about quitting your life to start a new one. Please don’t pin me as a cynic but here’s a woman in her mid-30s making this decision to restart her life so not only has she taken the time to make this choice, but she also has a steady income under her belt (which means savings) and talent working for her (she’s an artist). She has a a household full of possessions to sell and dabbles in stocks for an extra push. Its not that this is an unrealistic situation but for the younger generation who are not as well to do, quitting your life when it hasn’t even started yet seems well, unrealistic. Also, she finds love in… Paris. *womp womp* But seriously though, when does that ever happen? She’s the minority — not the majority, so its hard to relate to. The book is not that much of a Paris travelogue as it is a detailed account of how one woman changed her life. The name “Paris Letters” actually comes from the Etsy business she starts of writing water-colored letters of Paris to a fee-paying, subscribing audience. Now that was my favorite part of the book! As an ardent letter writer myself, I commend her resourcefulness turning a recreational pastime into a viable commercial enterprise. The book includes examples of these “Paris Letters” that tie in with the story line and having those visuals made the read all the more enjoyable. For that day when the bills are flowing, maybe it would be a fun thing to subscribe to! Check out her Etsy shop here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/JaniceArtShip. Also, if you end up getting the book, you’ll have a list of 100 ways she saved money to quit her job and move to Europe.
The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee
My rating: ✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪✪
Synopsis:A powerful observation on the uprooted lives of expatriates in modern-day Hong Kong. The narrative follows the lives of three American women: Mercy is a Columbia graduate, haunted by a terrible accident in her past which launches a series of painful consequences in her future. Margaret, a mother of three beautiful children, struggles to deal with her new reality after a devastating loss. And Hilary, a wealthy but insecure housewife with an inability to conceive, weighs her options to adopt as a way to save her crumbling marriage. As these women find themselves in the depths of despair, their paths will cross and will change their lives forever.
While stumbling upon the title on a must-read list for different personality types, I purchased the book to see if a fictional account of Asian expatriates could compare to my own real-life experience living as an expat in Vietnam. As I flipped the pages, I was immediately hooked on the beautifully accurate portrayal about the inner lives of women, especially those based overseas. While the three title characters are as facile as they come, you as the reader can identify with their feelings of isolation and frustration in their troubling situations. Their dealings with loss, betrayal, inadequacy, and misfortune, perfectly set the stage for all the drama that unfolds. . The three women are antagonizing creatures, yet their actions and pretensions are justified based on the chain-of-events. It was troubling that I noticed a likeness to these tragic women. Their flawed personalities helped me to address the demons I face being separated from my support network. I appreciated how all the men in the story take a backseat to the female characters. Each chapter focuses solely on one titular character creating a dialogue among these separate, yet fatefully intertwined women. With the story being told from three different perspectives, the tension feels almost palpable since you see every piece of the story from three different sides so its hard to pledge all your allegiance to just one character. You don’t know who to affix the label of protagonist or the antagonist to. They all somewhat encompass both labels at the same time. For all the tenseness you suffer throughout the read, the ending comes as very much of a letdown which was my only gripe with the text. Otherwise what I extracted from the book did contain a word of truth to my on-the-ground experience as an expat. I believe that the superficial quality of the characters and the plot were essential to describing the sad truth about expat-hood: that our lives abroad can never match the substance of our lives at home. They will always just be shallow recreations.