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Summer Reading: Not Over Yet!

Published: August 13, 2019

We continue on our journey of exploration through the list of “globetrotting” books compiled by New York Times Book Review list. This review includes two titles. We hope these reviews and the greater list will inspire you to “go global” this summer. 

Cover of The Murmur of Bees, by Sofia Segovia, translated by Simon Bruni

Book:The Murmur of Bees
Author: Sofía Segovia, Mexican
Country: Mexico

The 540-page translation of The Murmur of Bees is a magical-realistic historical family epic that provides readers with a taste of life in rural Mexico of 100 years ago. Set mainly in 1918 in a community afflicted by the Spanish Flu, which was then ravaging the entire world, the larger backdrop is the aftermath of the 1910 Mexican Revolution and its effect upon society.

The story is told by multiple narrators from various points of view, sometimes in the first person, sometimes in the third. There is no one main character, as the story encompases the entire landowning Morales family and multiple residents of their hacienda. Still, the catalyst (if not necessarily always the central figure) is Simonopio. In the first chapter, he is found under a bridge right after his birth. Most of the characters are superstitious peasants who believe him to be a child of the devil, not just because there were no pregnant women in the area, but because his face is deformed, and because he is covered by a living blanket of murmuring bees. Adopted by the Morales family, over the course of his life he overcomes the prejudice and gains the love and appreciation of almost everyone in the community. Never able to speak because of his deformity, he can communicate nonetheless. Always accompanied, if not necessarily covered, by bees, he has gifts such as the ability to see into the future, which he uses for the benefit of his family and the whole community.

Even in translation, Segovia’s prose is amazingly lush and evocative. Her descriptions of the countryside and landscape create an incredible sense of place, and her characterization is rich and varied. Readers familiar with magical realism in the works of Salman Rushdie, or of other Hispanic authors such as Carlos Fuentes or Gabriel García Márquez, will appreciate her subtle mastery of the technique. I highly recommend The Murmur of Bees to readers who can relish a long descriptive story that is not action or plot driven.

Alexander Arguelles, Group Director for Danish, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian and Swedish: I love both historical fiction and magical realism, so I was naturally drawn to this book when I heard that it offered both. I was not disappointed! Getting an overview of book in translation is also a technique that I use to learn whether it is worth the extra effort of reading in the original. I have already begun El murmullo de las abejas and as wonderful as it is in English, it is indeed even better in Spanish. So, Spanish learners: motivate yourselves by reading this now and promising yourselves the ability to read it in the original in the future!

Cover of The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury

Book: The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury
Author: Marc Levy, French
Country: UK and Turkey

Sometimes it’s really nice to get lost in the lives of the characters in a novel. That’s just what happened to me when I started reading The Strange Journey of Alice Pendelbury, a delightful, circuitous and unexpected story written by Marc Levy, France’s most-read novelist.

The story follows Alice, a 39-year old British woman, who lost both of her parents in an air strike during the war. The house she grew up in has disappeared overnight along with her mother, father and all of their belongings. It’s now 1950, and Alice has made a new life for herself with a close group of friends in London. She has a profession she loves: she is “a nose”—she has an acute sense of smell—and she blends fragrances to sell to London perfume shops. She lives and works in a drafty flat and has regular encounters with her cantankerous neighbor, Doldry, who is a painter, disapproves of her loud gatherings and covets her flat’s skylight.

Alice and her friends go on a daytrip to Brighton, where she encounters a fortune teller’s caravan. Alice’s friends persuade her to have her fortune read. The strange old woman insists that she has seen Alice’s eyes before and that she carries a story without even realizing it. She also tells her that the man who will be the most important in her life was walking right behind her that night, but that she would need to meet six other people first before she would find him—and the amazing journey would take her to Istanbul, the city of her birth. Alice brushes this off as nonsense, knowing for certain that she is a British citizen. But she can’t get the idea out of her head.

As she mulls this over, she develops an unlikely friendship with Doldry and with his help, they set off on an evocative and exotic expedition that sees Alice traveling through post-war Europe to the mysteries of Turkey. The reader is taken along through a world of different scents, cultures, experiences and histories challenging Alice to discover who she really is.

Headshot of Stacie Berdan

Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, Friend of Concordia Language Villages: I was intrigued by the mystery of the fortune teller and the possibility that this lone survivor might find something amidst the metaphoric rubble of the war. A sort of rebirth, if you will. As soon as I started reading I was hooked; Levy’s colorful characters so richly described drew me in and kept me turning the pages late into the night to find out the truth along with Alice.

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