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Summer Reading Has Begun!

Published: June 11, 2019

Who among us doesn’t enjoy a good book recommendation (or two or twenty!) especially one focused on things “global”? It was with great pleasure that many of us at Concordia Language Villages read this New York Times Book Review list of "Globetrotting" books coming out this year.  

The combination of intriguing titles, covers and brief write-ups is organized by geography since the original titles were published outside the U.S. and not in English. Members of the Concordia Language Village community have begun to review several of the titles. In fact, we’ll be publishing these mini-reviews as blogs throughout the summer. The reviews are short—but significantly longer than the original write-ups published in the NYT—with each reviewer offering insight into why they chose the title they did.

Perhaps these reviews and the greater list will inspire you to “go global” this summer even if you’re relaxing in a hammock near the Mississippi River. 

Book: Let’s Tell This Story Properly
Author: Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Countries: United Kingdom/Uganda

In this collection of 12 short stories, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi explores the layers of issues surrounding immigration from Uganda to the United Kingdom. The author herself is a Ugandan emigrant now living and working as a professor in northern England, so she is intimately familiar with the identity challenges and culture shock that can arise in immigrant communities. 

Each story gives us a glimpse into the lives of a diverse cast of characters, including men who traveled by ship from Uganda to the U.K. in the aftermath of World War II, airport security agents who seem to be hidden in plain sight to make observations of their adopted culture, and emigrants who are forced to return to Uganda for various reasons or who choose to return to prove a point to those they left behind. Even just the wide variety of stories included in the collection makes a point: there is no singular narrative of immigration from one country to another, but rather as many narratives as there are people who have made that journey.

Beginning with the Author’s Note at the outset, Makumbi makes it clear with her direct and unrelenting style that she will not adhere to simple stereotypes and feel-good narratives. Her writing cuts deeper by turning expectations upside down. Here a British-born son of a Ugandan emigrant chooses to travel to Uganda to take part in public circumcision rites; there a young boy fervently believes that his mother’s alcoholism would be cured if they could return to Uganda. In an especially whimsical story, the author writes from the perspective of a street dog, mistakenly transported to England where he must adjust to life as a pampered pet. All of the stories explore the ideas of performative identity: who we are in relation to those we choose to surround ourselves with, and the power of cultural roots. 

Emily Kajsa Pyenson, Dean of Sjölunden, the Swedish Language Village: I was drawn to this book because of personal connections to East Africa and a curiosity about what drives people to leave a familiar culture and settle in another part of the world. While reading it, I found myself reflecting on the political narrative around immigration into the U.S. and how the lived experiences of the people in question are far more nuanced and interesting than the headlines can ever show.

Book: I Remember Abbu
Author: Humayun Azad
Country: Bangladesh

Our first memories of family life are inextricably tied to parental figures who create the backdrop of our very existence. Most of these images are defined by family lore that gives shape and definition to what can often be hazy recollections. But many of us don’t have a country in revolution as the principal context for how a mother or a father behaves or acts. And few of us have only that memory of a parent who then unexpectedly disappears. 

The celebrated Bengali author Humayun Azad outlines the dramatic events of the 1971 revolutionary uprising in what was then Eastern Pakistan, ultimately creating an independent Bangladesh. He does so through the eyes of a child, providing an innocent interpretation of the unfolding chaos, filled with the demons of an unknown enemy. Azad uses excerpts from the diary of the young girl’s father in order to capture the historical details that guide the family’s decisions during this tumultuous time.

The end result is a searing understanding of how military conflict wreaks havoc on the life of a child. The confusion in the streets, the upheaval from home and neighborhood, the tenuous safe harbor in a new location, the fear of gunfire near and far ... unnerving feelings for anyone, let alone for a child. The story concludes with the bond of a parent and a child forever severed, and a grasping for memories of a beloved abbu.

Christine Schulze, Executive Director of Concordia Language Villages: Having recently lost an elderly parent, I was intrigued with how one retains memories of an important life figure...even if the circumstances are completely different. I’m also drawn to historical novels and was not deeply familiar with what sparked Bangladesh’s fight for independence from Pakistan in the early 1970s. Azad’s writing brings that time period to life in poignant and powerful ways. 

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