Posted by: Corri van de Stege | September 9, 2007

More musings on books, authors and writing

This week was another busy one work wise – lots of travel, another trip to Wales, five hours each way, however no mishap with transport this time!  I’m trying hard to keep on track with reading and writing, including postings for my blog.

The armchair traveller challenge has reached a bit of a dip with the list having hit another snag.  I’ve tried very, very hard to read The Sleeping Buddha by Hamida Ghafour, as part of a trip to Afghanistan, but am faltering badly.  Hamida Ghafour is a journalist; she was born in Afghanistan but grew up in Canada, and has extensive and impressive Afghan connections.  When 25, in August 2003, the Daily Telegraph gives her a posting in Afghanistan, and the book is very much an account of her visit.  The difficulty is that she mixes her observations on events and people, moving from comments on relatives, forebears, to historical facts about the country and its rulers, and then tries to make it all interesting by giving the reader information on how her relatives linked with the tribal lords and kings.  The story, in my view, becomes a hotch potch of different tales, at times fairly descriptive and in danger of becoming dry and then at other times touching and fiercely feminist.

It then begins to dawn that the book is perhaps not so much a view of Afghanistan through the eyes of one family, as the blurb proclaims, but more the history of one family and how it interacted with important events and people, and that what Hamida Ghafour is trying to do is convince us of the credibility of the story through these links.  For example, Hamida Ghafour describes how a friend of hers engineers a meeting with Zahir Shah, the last king, who has resettled in Afghanistan after a lengthy exile abroad, in Rome.  He appears to have lived the last days of his life in the same palace now occupied by Hamid Kursai, the president.  Zahir Shah is considered to be a weak king, who somehow probably deserved what he got, and this is evidenced again by how he treated people in her family, in the past. 

If you persevere there are interesting pieces of information, but I simply did not like the writing style, which might have been good for short individual pieces in a newspaper but was not conducive to reading the book as an integral whole.  The chaotic jumping from one thought to another, where people and events are brought onto stage and then disappear again, just did not do it for me and I felt I lost interest in the whole history of Afghanistan if it was this difficult to get my head around!  I’m afraid I still have not finished it and have lost the will!  Do I still count it as a book on my list of armchair traveller reading?  It’s become an aborted trip I’m afraid, too many problems with the transport!

To console myself I have picked up Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Oranges are not the Only Fruit’ (I know, everyone has already read that, and I should have read this ages and ages ago but somehow just never got round to it) – this book is a treasure.  The writing style is fantastic and so unique, it’s quite close to a stream of consciousness style of writing, but nevertheless keeps to paragraphs and is not totally subjective in that sense.  I just love the humour and seriousness in its approach to a religious upbringing that is quite idiosyncratic to say the least, but at the same time so real.  It’s hugely helpful in my thinking about my own writing, although the latter is not proceeding as well as I would like it to.  Jeanette Winterson’s book is inspiring though and after a visit this weekend by a Dutch friend, with conversations about The Netherlands in the 50s and 60s I might just get back on track again. I definitely feel inspired.


  1. I checked out The Sleeping Buddha from the library after reading your previous mention of it. But I had mixed feelings about the scatterings of ideas and facts. I put it down and picked up The Bookseller of Kabul, which flows so smoothly like a river.

    The armchair traveler challenge has been a bit stagnant for me as well because I had a hard time finding the titles I wanted. But I’ve got a copy of The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy which I’ll be bringing with me as well.

  2. Matt: glad you had the same impression. The Bokseller of Kabul is so much livelier and better written. Where does The Dud Avocado take you? I’ll look forward to reading your review.

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