Books I'm reading
Updated: Nov 4, 2019
I'm often asked to recommend books, and so here are three that I've enjoyed recently.
News of the World, by Paulette Jiles
For one of my next books, I'm researching southern Patagonia in the 1870s, including issues such as the interaction between the Indigenous Tehuelche tribes, and British settlers. This work has sparked an interest in other Indigenous peoples of the Americas. So when a friend recommended News of the World, I downloaded it straight away. I read it within a few days.
I enjoyed the book because it's a great story. But I also enjoyed it because it demonstrates, albeit in a fictional way, issues arising from the interaction between two cultures in Texas in the aftermath of the American civil war: the Kiowa, a Native American tribe, and European settlers.
News of the World revolves around the relationship between a grandfatherly ex-soldier, Captain Kidd, and the eight-year-old child of white settlers, captured four years previously by the Kiowa tribe and raised as one of their own. Rescued by the US army, the child is entrusted to Captain Kidd so that he can deliver her back to her family, four hundred miles away. The child has fully integrated into the Kiowa ways, and her name is Cicada. But she is also Johanna, and therein lies the complexity of this story.
Captain Kidd earns his income by travelling from town to town, reading from newspapers to groups of townspeople. I don't want to spoil the story, except to say that the need for Captain Kidd and Johanna to trust each other along the dangerous journey is beautifully told, and very emotional. I couldn't stop reading it.
A film based on this book is currently in production, and due to be released late next year. Tom Hanks will star as Captain Kidd, and Helena Zengel as Johanna.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Marshall
I studied Japanese history at school but only from the time of American influence, namely 1853, the year of the first visit by Captain Matthew Perry.
But this story begins much earlier, in 1799. It is set in Dejima, an island off Nagasaki, and in the hills behind Nagasaki. At that time, Dejima was the single place of direct trade and exchange between Japan and the outside world, and for many decades, only the Dutch were allowed there.
Jacob is a young auditor who works for the Dutch East India Company. He arrives at the island, where an uneasy truce exists between the Dutch and the Japanese, and he falls for a Japanese midwife who is spirited away to a monastery in the hills. We are treated to great storytelling, the clash of civilisations, love, corruption, and mystery.
There was a ninja-like part in the middle of the book which I found odd and not quite in line with the rest of the book, but overall it was a great read - a book that was hard to put down.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Yep, I did say, on the home page, that my reading taste was eclectic. Research for one of my books involves the period during which Conan Doyle wrote these enduring stories. So, what better way to explore the day-to-day lives of Londoners - their clothes, their carriages, their train journeys, their manners, their dialogue - than to read a book by a contemporary author. And to be entertained at the same time.
I enjoyed these detective stories as a child. But reading them again, so many years later, I was once again carried away by the mysterious crimes, their settings in mansions or moorland, the dastardly criminals, and the overall sense of adventure. But the main thing that impressed me was the portrayal of Holmes himself. His detached character, his violin playing, his chemical experiments, his brilliant unravelling of every mystery, his magnifying glass, his crawling around on the ground seeking clues, his pipe-smoking in front of the fire at Baker Street, and his probable insecurity in constantly belittling Watson. All good stuff.
I'd recommend the Sherlock Holmes stories to lovers of light historical detective fiction. But they need no introduction!