Breathe To Read

Breathe To Read

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Read The World - Saudi Arabia - Daring To Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening

Book: Daring To Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening
Author: Manal Al-Sharif
Pages: 320
The book takes place in the country: YES
The author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO


This is my 27th read for this year.  I finished it on 2/23/2019

I have only been to one Middle Eastern Country - the United Arab Emirates.  It is a beautiful part of the world, and right above Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia is not anywhere on my list to visit.  And after reading this book, well, it remains that way.  This book makes me realize how very small our problems Americans (and even the Swiss) have compared to other parts of the world.  Especially as a woman.  I have NEVER had to fear what Manal had to fear.  Never.


This is the story of the author and her want to change the rules for women drivers in her country.  The book begins with her being arrested for driving on open Saudi roads.  This is something, as a woman, she is forbidden to do.  There is actually no law that women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia.  But it is a custom, and in Saudi Arabia, customs are treated like laws.  She is arrested by the Saudi religious police, and thrown in jail without a trial.

The book goes back to her childhood, and she talks about her upbringing in Mecca.  She lived within walking distance to the Grand Mosque there - where all Muslims must visit at least once in their lives as a pilgrimage.  While the Mosque is revered, Mecca is where the very poor and destitute live.  She grew up in an apartment that didn't have running water, and they barely had enough food to eat.

Manal speaks about how she grew up where women and men were kept separate in all things.  Women could not drive themselves anywhere.  Women cannot rent an apartment without a man.  Women cannot go out without a male escort or guardian.  Women cannot attend funerals of loved ones.  Women cannot, cannot, cannot.  Manal bought into the retoric for a large part of her childhood because it is what she was taught, what she was fed, and what she new.  She became a devout Muslim and tried to follow the rules that were put in place for women.  

It wasn't until she went to college and realized she didn't want to study the "normal" women professions available to her, and studied computer science.  She got a job at the presigious Aramco company, but even there she faced restrictions.  She could not rent her own place.  She could not drive herself to and from work.  She could not dress the way she wanted at work without scutiny.  

She did some traveling and her eyes were opened.  She found that women in other countries could drive themselves where they needed to go, and that is what she wanted for herself.  While she lived for a short period in the United States, she obtained a drivers license, and was determined to get one when she returned home.

She organized Women2Drive movement on facebook, and it received attention on a global scale.  It caused a lot of problems for her at work - she started getting death threats, and scathing emails about what she was doing, but she was also getting support from women who wanted to be able to drive themselves.  While they were organizing a "Drive day" Manal decided she was going to drive herself somewhere, and that is what got her arrested.  She was thrown in a jail that was full of cockroaches, not enough food, and extremely crowded conditions, and it made her even more determined to continue to work to change things.

Today, she speaks all over the world about what she accomplished and the strides she has made for Saudi Arabia.  Sadly she had to move from Saudi due to the pressure she was receiving from the public.  She now lives in Dubai with her family.

This was an excellent book.  Eye opening at the very least.  Well told, and well written.  Manal did an excellent job of telling her life story and what eventually lead her to become an activist for women's rights in Saudi Arabia.  I cannot imagine having the deal with the rules she had to follow as a woman in her own country.  The lack of freedom she had just because she was female isn't something I have ever had to deal with.  I commend her on her bravery and her efforts.  And as of 2018, the King issued a decree lifting the world's only ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia.

Bravo Manal.

Stars: 5





Friday, February 22, 2019

Read The World - Honduras - The Lost City of the Monkey God

Book: The Lost City of the Monkey God
Author: Douglas Preston
Pages: 336
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: NO
I have visited: NO


This is my 26th read for 2019.  I listened to this book.  I did better with this book, listening wise.  I decided that I would listen to books on the tram instead of read for "practice" and it went well.  Also helped me finish the book quicker.


This is the story of the author's journey in 2012 with a team of scientist into Honduras to find the lost White City otherwise known as the Lost City of the Monkey God.  The story is that it was a city where in the 1400s, people fled to hide from Spanish invaders.  The rumor is, that anyone who entered the city would fall ill and die.  Especially if you disturbed a particular flower that grew there. There was actually a journalist who went searching for the city in the 1940s, but committed suicide before he could reveal the location.

Now with proper technology to search the jungle, Preston and his team go in for a few weeks in search for the city and the artifacts.  They do happen across a huge cache of carved items and in doing so, endure the dangers of the Honduras jungle.

The last 1/3 of the book talks about the parasitic infection that half of the team came down with on their return from the expidition.  This leads to an explanation of how Christopher Columbus and his crew brought in European diseases to the area and killed off a large portion of Honduras' indigenous people who could not fend off things like small pox.

I enjoyed this book for the most part.  What they came across in the jungle was incredible and scary.  They are lucky that none of them were killed.  About 1/3 of the story is about the expidition itself, and the rest is about the history of the area and then the medical intervention that the team received when they returned.  While I found the medical part the most interesting (I am a nurse after all), I could see how this was a bit much.  It isn't what the story was supposed to be about, after all.  It should have been more about the actual hunt and discovery of the lost city than about the team dealing with a jungle illness.  BUT, I would not use this critique to discourage you from reading the book.  It is a very interesting historical recounting of the Hondurase lost city.

Stars: 4





Thursday, February 21, 2019

Read The World - Sierra Leone - A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

Book: A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Author: Ishmael Beah
Pages: 229
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO


This is my 25th book for the year.  I finished reading it on 2/21/2019.

Another book that takes place in an African Country.  So many incredible stories that come out of Africa.  So many unbelieveable ones at that.  Things that we in America would never even imagine happening to us in our lifetimes, let alone as a child.


This is the author's own story.  When he was about 11 years old, the world around him changed.  War began and he had to flee his home leaving his family behind.  Fearing that they are dead, he hides in the woods, stealing food and trying to stay alive.  He finds another group of children who are also on the run, and together, they try to survive.  

At the age of 12, he is picked up by rebel troops and trained to fight.  He is given an AK-47 and becomes hooked on hard drugs, and learns to kill.  For a year he is with the rebels and helps kill hundreds of people before he is finally rescued by the government army and put into a rehabilitation camp with other boys.  He has had such a hard year, the boy he was is all but gone.  What is left is a drug withdrawn, angry killer who has migraines and violent nightmares.

He rehabilitates, and the government releases him to an uncle.  The uncle's family welcomes him and gives him the love he needs to continue to heal.  Ishmael is then asked to go to the United States to talk about what it was like as a child soldier and he agrees.

When he returns to Sierra Leone, the government once again is overthrown and it becomes very unsafe once again.  His past is coming back to haunt him, and he knows he has to escape.  So he calls a woman he met in New York (who would become his adoptive mother) and asks if he can get to her, would she let him stay with her and she said yes.  So at the age of 16, he heads off to the United States to escape Sierra Leone once and for all.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  The first feeling is that this story is so unbelievable and hearrbreaking it is hard to fathom.  I cannot imagine a little boy the age of my son getting an automatic weapon and cocaine and being forced to kill people.  And then having to live with that for the rest of his life.  To hear a first hand account from someone who actually not only had to live through a terrible situation, but had to participate in it, is a lot of take in.

The book itself, though, had some short comings in my opinion.  While the information is there, the book isn't full of a lot of emotion and I didn't find it very well written.  It seemed disconnected.  The violence and discriptions of that violence are hard to read.  I am sure the writer felt it was necessary to describe, but it was cringe worthy.

The other thing I wish he would have done was talked more about his time in the United States.  The book ends with him basically getting on the plane to his new life in the US, but he never speaks of it and what it was like to adjust.  There is just a slight mention of it in the thank you section of the book where he says he went to Oberlin College.  After so much terrible, it would have been nice to hear about his "happy ending" (that that is what it truly was)

If you now know those things, but are still interested in hearing about the life of a child who was forced into war, then please read this one.  It is an eye opening book that I think a lot of people should read.

Stars: 3 1/2




Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Read The World - Norway - Out Stealing Horses

Book: Out Stealing Horses
Author: Per Petterson
Pages: 274
The book takes place in the country: YES
The author is from the country:NO
I have been: NO


This is my 24th book for the year.  I finished it today!

I have Norway on my short list.  Just like just about every other country.  Norway is easily accessed to us here in Switzerland, so I am hoping we get to at least Oslo before we move back to the states.


This is the story of a man named Trond Sanders.  It is the year 1999 and he is 67 years old and has bought a cabin in Norway that he is going to fix up and spend the rest of his life in.  He has moved in late in the season, and is worried about getting the cabin ready before Norway winter really sets in.  As he gets things ready, he runs into a man that was part of his distance past, and it brings up a lot of memories of the last time he was at this lake.

The book travels back and forth between 1999 and 1948 when Trond was 15 years old and at this very lake for the summer.  It is just he and his dad.  His dad was there thinking he could make some money doing logging.  Trond meets a young boy his age named Jon who talks Trond into "Stealing" horses from neighboring farms.  The boys don't actually steal them, just ride them and return them, but the idea is thrilling to the young boys.  

A tragedy during that summer leaves two families torn apart, for very different reasons.  Trond learns things about his father he wished he never knew.  Jon has to live with what he has done.  

The book delves into relationships of fathers and son, best friends of youth, and how things can come full circle. There are some things from your past you cannot escape no matter how hard you try. 

The last line in the book was the best of all: "We decide for ourselves when it will hurt".  

It was an excellent novel.  It is beautifully written and I could picture the harsh Norway countryside as I read.  The story takes so many twists and turns, all revolving around the pain we feel for things that happen in our past and how we chose to deal with them and face them in the future.  I encourage you to read this short novel for yourself.  You will not be disappointed.

Stars: 4 1/2




Monday, February 18, 2019

Sidetrack Post - The Graveyard Book

Book: The Graveyard Book:
Author: Neil Gaiman
Pages: 368

While I am busy reading a book from Norway, I am going to blog about a book I just finished reading with my children.  I have two, 12 year olds - a boy and a girl - who still let me read to them each evening.  It is a sweet little tradition that I know I won't be able to hold onto for much longer, so while it last, I let them pick books that we can share together.

We sometimes read two at a time because they have varying tastes.  But this book held both of their interest, and I love Neil Gaiman, so it worked out beautifully.


This would be my 23rd book for the year 2019.  I am counting it because I read it too.

This is the story of Nobody (Bod) Owens.  When he was a baby, his whole family was killed.  Bod narrowly escaped and ended up toddling into a graveyard near by.   Now he is being raised by ghost and his guardian - Silas - is the only one besides Bod that can travel between the living and the dead.  So he is in charge of keeping Bod fed and clothes and protecting him from the killer that still seeks him out.

As Bod grows, even though he is human, he is able to do a few things like the dead.  He can make himself fade from view from the living.  He can see well in the dark.  He can slink between walls.  All powers he has only because of the protections of the graveyard.

As Bod gets older, he wants more and more to leave the graveyard.  He wants to go to school, to make friends, to have a life among the living.  But Silas warns how dangerous this could be.  The killer - Jack - is still out there looking for Bod.  In the end, Silas gives in, and lets Bod attend school.  But it quickly becomes a grave error when Bod refuses to lay down to a bully and he draws attention to himself.  He soons realizes that he cannot be among the living until Jack is caught.

Enter Scarlett.  When Bod was a little boy, Scarlett had visited the graveyard with her parents, but then moved away.  Now, at age 14, she is back, and Bod and she become friends.  Scarlett comes to the graveyard to visit, and meets a Mr. Frost who befriends her and her mother.  One thing leads to another, and Scarlett and Bod end up visiting Mr. Frost at his house and discover that this is the Jack that has been after Bod for so many years.

Will Bod and Scarlett escape?  Will Silas return in time to help save them?  You will have to read the book to find out!

We really liked the book.  Neil Gaiman is such a talendted writer and there are laugh out loud moments throughout.  I encourage you to read this middle grade novel either for yourself or with your children.

Stars: 4 1/2





Sunday, February 17, 2019

Read The World - Ecuador - Galapagos

Book: Galapagos
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Pages: 336
The book takes place in the country: YES
The author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO


This is my 22nd read of the year.  I finished it on 2/16/2019.

And now I think I am finally caught up.  Now there will be space between my Read The World post.  Aren't you glad?  Don't worry - I will find other things to blog about while I am in the middle of reading my country books.

I have actually read only one other Kurt Vonnegut book - "Slaughterhouse Five" and I really liked it.  So, when one of his books appeared for Equador, I decided to give it a try.


The story opens with a narrator from a million years in the future.  He brings us back in time to the 1980s when a group of people are about the take a cruise.  What the passengers don't know is that it is about the be the apocolypse and they will be the last survivors of the human race and whom all future humans stem from.

The narrator had died tragically young actually building the boat for the cruise of the last of the human race.  When he meets the "tunnel of the afterlife", where his family coaxes him to join them, he is distracted by the people on the cruise.  He is warned that if he doesn't join the afterlife at that moment, he would be stuck to wander the earth for one million years before the tunnel will be open to him again.  He decides not to go into the light and thus is now one million years into the future waiting for the afterlife tunnel to open again.

While he waits, he tells the stories of the passengers of the fateful cruise, who are sailing from main land Ecuador to the Galapagos islands, that are the last surviving humans.  

These folks are a random selection of passengers that are marooned on an island called Santa Rosalia.  The rest of the world becomes infertile and eventually humanity dies out.  Only the people on the island are able to reproduce and continue the human race.  Over the next million years humans evolve into furry spieces that look like sea lions - who have flippers instead of hands, and can swim more than they can walk.

The book goes back and forth between the narrator talking about the future and him recounting the lives of the people on the ship and how they all came to be together.  It is a pretty good book.  Quirky and disorienting and confusing, and great all wrapped into one.  I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.

I encourage you to try the book.  Especially if you have read Vonnegut in the past.

Stars: 4


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Read The World - Malaysia - The Gift Of Rain

Book: The Gift of Rain
Author: Tan Twan Eng
Pages: 450
Book takes place in the country: YES
Author is from the country: YES
I have visited: NO


Okay - confession time.  I started to read this book yesterday, got 20 pages in and it started to sound very familiar.  I read a few more pages, and then became convinced.  I did a back search on my blog and yes, I had read it before.  I don't know how I missed it when I was doing a search for countries.  

I read this book in 2016.  So I am going to post my review from then.

This is the story of 16 year old Phillip Hutton.  He is half Chinese, half English and from a prominent family in Penang.  While his siblings and father are away on vacation, he chooses to stay home alone.  He gets to know Hayato Endo who is a Japanese diplomat.  Philip spends time showing Endo around and in return Endo teaches him Japanese and aikido.  When the Japanese invade Malaya, Phillip learns that Endo is a Japanese spy.  It is clear that Endo has taught Philip aikido to help save his life and possibly the life of his family.

This is a pretty good book.  I have to admit I had a hard time getting into it.  I don't think it was the book's fault, though.  I think it was when I was trying to read it, so I don't want to judge it too harshly.  I did like the characters.  Endo-san and Phillip develop almost a father/son relationship.  Since Phillip's mother had died when he was a baby, and she was his Chinese ancestor, he never felt as close to his father and half siblings.  This book does a good job mixing the three cultures together - Western, Chinese, and Japanese.

I have read a lot of WWII books/pre-WWII books, but this is the first one from Southeast Asia.  I recommend trying it out.

Stars: 4