Breathe To Read

Breathe To Read

Monday, January 21, 2019

Read The World - South Africa - The Elephant Whisperer

Book: The Elephant Whisperer
Author: Lawrence Anthony
Pages: 384
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: YES
I have visited: no


I read this book the first time in 2016.  It had won an Audible award, but I decided to read the book instead of listening to it.  Wow.  What a story.  I have it on my bucket list to visit Mr. Anthony's animal santuary and stay on his property.  I can imagine that the experience would be amazing.  I read this book to my eldest daughter a year later because she was interested in becoming a vet (still is).  It was just a great the second time around.


This is a story told by Lawerence Anthony - a man who has devoted his life to animal conservation in Africa.  It is a true story - his own and how he came to be the owner of 9 elephants on his Thula Thula conservation land in Zululand, South Africa.  They were a herd of rogue elephants who continually escaped their former home, watched their matriarch be shot due to her antics, and then had to be moved 600 miles away to a new land unfamiliar to him.  Anthony's ability to settle these large beast and have them thrive was nothing short of amazing.

I loved this book.  I have always had a love for Africa and for Elephants.  These are my daughter, Finley's, favorite animals, and she and I have on our bucket list to visit Africa in the new future (and I think Thula Thula will definitely be a stop).  The story is well written and well told.  He is very honest about how dangerous his work is, and that these are not pets, but wild animals.  He is a man that saves even a deadly mamba snake - his heart is only in the preservation of these animals in their natural habitat.  With Man continually closing in, more and more animals are becoming extinct and ending up in zoos, and people like Anthony are trying to stop that from happening.

I encourage you to read this book. IT was wonderful.

Stars:  5



Sunday, January 20, 2019

Read The World - Russian Federation - The Master And Margarita

Book: The Master And Margarita
Author: Mikhail Bulgakov
Pages: 448
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: YES
I have visited: no


I read this book in 2015 - the first year I decided to do a reading challenge.  Side note - I started doing reading challenges because of my mother.  I was obviously stuck in a reading genre rut because she begged me to stop recommending Dystopian future books to her.  I wasn't sure how to hunt for things outside of my comfort zone, so a friend told me about reading challenges.  The categories helped me search for books and I have found the love for so many different types of things.  So....I have my mom to thank.  She helped me become a better reader.


This book was originally written in Russian and then translated.  It is Daniel Radcliffe's favorite book, and actually how I found it (he mentions it in several interviews that he gives as being his favorite book).  I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I read this.  But it has certainly made the permanent shelf.  I would like to read it again someday because I feel like it deserves a second round of attention.

This was by far the most challenging book I have ever read.  Ever.  It was recommended to me by a friend and it is on the list of "100 books you should read before you die".

This book as a cult following - a serious one.  Bulgakov was a famous Russian writer but he died before his book ever got published.  He lived in the early 1900's and died in 1940, but with Russia at war  - and what he printed would have put him in jail for sure - it never saw the light of day until the 1960s.

I have never read a Russian novel before and this one was hard.  VERY hard.  Thank goodness it had a commentary section in the back of the book that broke out some of meanings of the Russian words.  That helps a great deal.  But it still took me over 2 weeks to read its 335 pages because I could only do one or two chapters a night before I needed to take a break.

If you are looking to challenge yourself this year - I suggest reading The Master and Margarita.  The premise of the book is.......all over the place.  Really - it is the story of how Satan visits Moscow and how he wreaks havoc on a group of writers who were atheist.  They don't believe in God or Satan, and this doesn't make Satan very happy.

The Master (whose real name we never learn) is a writer.  He doesn't actually enter the novel himself until about 1/3 of the way through the book.  Bulgakov died before the book went to print, and people speculate that he might have called it something else had he lived to see it printed.  The Master is writing a story about Pontius Pilate and his crucifixion of Yeshua - who the reader believes is Jesus.  But this is never told.  This manuscript of the Master is intertwined between the "present" story of these writers in Moscow and what happens to them if they cross Woland (who is Satan - but again, not really said).  Margarita is The Master's love of his life.  She is a beautiful woman who leaves her husband to be with the Master and encourage him to write his story of Pontius Pilate.

Is your head spinning yet?

The writer lived in a very tumultuous Russia.  The 1930s in the Soviet Union were very unsafe - especially when it came to writing.  There is a line in the back of the book that says "All of Bulgakov's literary energy and creative will were concentrated on proving something that his enviornment contradicted:  that manuscripts don't burn, that art outlasts the tyrants, that entropy doesn't triumph over the creative spirit."

I can't give you much more because this book goes is so many directions that it would be impossible to really give you a feel for it.  I do suggest you reading it.  I would give it 4 stars, and hope that someday to read it again to see what I missed and to better understand it.

Stars: 4




Saturday, January 19, 2019

Read The World - Pakistan - Three Cups Of Tea

Book: Three Cups of Tea
Author: Greg Mortenson
Pages: 349
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: NO
I have visited: no


I read this book in 2017 as part of my reading challenge.  It was under a category "A Book In A Country I Know Little About".  I have not read a lot about Pakistan, so when my mom recommended this book, I wanted to try it.  I fell in love with this true story immediately.  However, it has gotten some negative press lately (there are rumors that some of it isn't true).  And when I brought it up to the reading groups that this was my Pakistan group, they agreed I should continue to hunt for something else to read for this country.  But for now, because I did love the story, I am keeping it.


This is the story of Greg Mortenson who has built over 100 schools in Pakistan.  He was a climber who was climbing K2 and failed.  He became very ill, and ended up in the village of Korphe where they cared for him until he was well.  While he was there, he got to know the people and their need for a school.  Inspired and outraged, he went home to figure out how he could raise the $12,000 needed to build a school.  As a single, registered nurse, he didn't have any money to do this himself.  He wrote over 500 letters, but finally one person offered to fund the school in its entirety.  He returned and built the school.  When his generous giver died, he left Greg 1 million dollars to start a foundation to build more schools and help the people of Pakistan.  The need for good schools - especially for girls - was large.  So were bridges and running water.  Great set out to do all of those things and succeeded.  Girls are not going to school and going on to college because of what he did.  He set out to prove that knowledge is power and it can change a society.

This was a great book.  I was fascinated by the Pakistan culture and also by the kindness the people showed a white man from America.  I learned more about the true meaning of what it means to be a Muslim (kindness and giving and brotherhood) and the different between those who are truly religious and those who are not.  It was interesting to see how what we would consider cheaply built schools could change the lives of 1000s and 1000s of children and change their futures.

Great book.  I encourage you to read it.

Stars: 5



Friday, January 18, 2019

Read The World - Netherlands - The Diary Of A Young Girl

Book:  The Diary Of A Young Girl
Author: Anne Frank
Pages: 283
Book take place in the country: YES
Author is from the country:  Yes (but not born there)
I have visited: no


I read this book several times over my life - starting with required reading when I was in junior high school.  I read it to all three of my children and they in turn have recently had it as part of their school reading.  Here in Switzerland, on the border of Germany, World War II is a big part of the curriculum.  My German teacher told me that part of her schooling growing up was also visiting the concentration camps and grave sites of the people who died under Nazi rule.  She told us that the war and German's mistakes were drilled into them so that it never happens again.

While Anne Frank lived only shortly in the Netherlands and most of it in hiding, I have chosen it (for now) as my Netherlands book.  It is a book that is already on my shelf, and it sits as a reminder of how one person can truly destroy a race of people.  Before we leave Switzerland, we plan to visit the Anne Frank house with our kids to fully witness what it was like for her and her family.


This is the story of a Jewish girl who hid in an Annex in Amsterdam during WWII.  She and her family went into hiding.  She was 13 at the time she started the diary and went into hiding.  For two years, her family and several others, kid in a small Annex until they were betrayed.  The diary is almost a daily account of Anne's life in the Annex and her feelings about all the people that are there with her.

This, of course, is a classic.  I haven't read it since I was in the 8th grade.  I still find it amazing that it is required reading among middle schools in the US, and - of course - here with us here in Switzerland.  The kids have been really into the story, and asking a lot of questions.  And our plan will be to take them to Amsterdam in the spring to see the Anne Frank house.  It is great that we can take a story from a book and show them in real life.

If for some reason, you have never read this book - or it has been a long time since you have - pick it up.  I think it is good to be reminded - especially in today's climate - what can happen when power falls into the wrong hands.

Stars: 5



Thursday, January 17, 2019

Read The World - Nepal - Into Thin Air

Book: Into Thin Air
Author: Jon Krakauer
Pages: 332
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author if from the country: NO
I have visited: no


I read this book during my 2016 challenge.  It was a book that came out the year I was born, and I didn't realize at the time that this story was that old.  I loved the book - it is griping, and terrifying.  And there is a movie, so that was a plus.

I am keeping this as my Nepal book for now, but things may change in the future.  While this takes place in Nepal, it is truly the story of Mount Everest and the people who lost their lives.  I may search for a book more about the country of Nepal itself.  We shall see.


This is a true story written by one of the climbers that was on this trip in 1996.  He is a reporter, but also an avid climber, and had always wanted to climb Everest.  He got the people at his magazine that he wrote for to fund his trip (did you know the trips cost $65,000?  And that was in 1996) and so he went.  The book tells of his trip, and what happened to cause the death of 5 people on that trip.

I liked this book.  If nothing else it taught me that people who want to climb Everest are borderline crazy.  If not completely insane.  The account from the author makes it sound terrible - every single second.  From getting altitude sickness to major frostbite to cerebral edema to death.  He talks about being so deprived of oxygen that he couldn't think straight when it was most critical.  And how he lost so much weight for having to work so hard that he almost froze to death.

And the Sherpas.  The people who live at the base of Everest who are hired to go on these climbs and set the ropes and carry the loads and care for the people who paid for these trips.  There are no words for how awful their jobs are but how they don't see it that way.  These mountain climbs are things of honor for them, but I felt nothing but terrible for them.

Many of the people on these trips have families that they leave behind to climb a mountain.  And die trying.  They are not fighting in a war for their country.  They are not putting themselves in harms way to save the life of another.  They have paid an exorbitant amount of money to have a team help them climb a snowy mountain.  It seems beyond silly.

But I am getting off track.  The book was well written and definitely worth the read.  He tells the good with the bad (mostly bad if you ask me) in taking on a climb to 29,000 feet.

So check it out.

Stars: 4 1/2



Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Read The World - Myanmar/Burma - The Art Of Hearing Heartbeats

Book: The Art Of Hearing Heartbeats
Author: Jan-Phillip Sendker
Pages: 352
Book Takes Place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: NO
I have visited: no


I read this book back in 2016.  It was under a reading challenge category of "A Book My Mother Recommends".  I mom really loved this book, so she bought me a copy.  And it was a wonderful book that had to make the permanent shelf.  When I asked for suggestions for a Myanmar/Burma book - this one came up again and again.


This is the story of Julia who goes to Burma in search of the father that abandoned her and her mother.  She has never forgiven him but wanted to know why.  She has found a love letter among her father's things, to a woman she has never known.  Julia need to know the answer to her father's disappearance from her life, so she heads to the village where the woman supposedly lives.

She meets a man who promises to tell her the story of her father and who knows of the woman, so she agrees to listen if it means she gets her answers.  In listening to the story, she uncovers her father's past and a love that spanned a lifetime.

I thought this book was wonderful.  I had a hard time putting it down, because I was enjoying listening to the story of Julia's father's childhood and how he met the love of his life.  Julia's father was blind as a child for many, many years, and since my own daughter is legally blind, this hit a cord.   I enjoyed reading his resilience to his sudden blindness and how he still found friendship, and love.  And in the end, we learn who the man is and how he knows the story of Julia's father which ended the book perfectly.

I encourage you to pick up this book and read it.

Stars: 5



Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Read The World - North Korea - The Girl With Seven Names

Book: The Girl With Seven Names:
Author: Hyeonseo Lee
Pages: 320
Book Takes Place in the Country: YES
Auhtor is from the country: YES
I have visited: no


I read this book near the end of last year.  It was recommended to me by several people in the reading groups I follow.  And then when this year's list came up - it was recommended as the book I put in my North Korea spot.  After I read it, I whole heartedly agreed.


This is the true story of the author's life in North Korea and how she defected from a country that is trapped with a brutal communist leader.  She lives near the border of China and dreams of crossing to a better life.

One night, when things have gotten so bad for her family, she makes the escape to China.  The family has friends right across the border (smuggling trade was big where she lived in North Korea) and they agree to help her make safe passage.  She has relatives in China, and she convinces her friends across the border to take her to them.  The relatives had no idea she was coming, but welcomed the 17 year old and agree to hide her.  She spends her days, weeks, months with her relatives learning Mandarin and hiding the fact that she escaped from North Korea.

Before she knows it, 2 years have passed and she feels that she has overstayed her welcome.  She makes plans to get a job, and get her own place in China and leaves her relatives safety.  She spends a decade in China hiding in plain site.

Homesickness, and worry about her mother and her younger brother make her realize that somehow she must return home.  She meets a man that is from South Korea and he agrees to help her get her family to safety.  With skill and perserverance she makes her way and starts the plan to move her mother and brother to the south.  It takes many months to get her mother and brother to safety after convincing her mother she had to leave.

This was a great book.  It gives you a good insight to what it is like for those living in North Korea.  This book covers the 1990's and early 2000's - not that far in the past to imagine that this is going on now in this country.  The citizens are trapped in a dictatorship and fear for their lives on a daily basis.  One mis step could mean execution without a trial.

What she went through to escape, and then try and get her family to do the same is harrowing.  She is imprisoned and interrogated and her family goes through the same just to leave North Korea for a better, freer life.  They had been brainwashed their whole lives about what the world around them was like, and were shocked to find what it really was.  I commend her for leaving, especially at a young age with no money and hardly any contacts to save herself and those she loves.

I recommend you reading this book.  I think it gives us an eye opening experience of what it is like for the the citizens of North Korea.

Stars: 4 1/2