Monday, February 21, 2011

Beyond Western Civ 101

After watching Invictus recently, I was reminded of how little I know about the history and cultures of other countries. Growing up, history classes stuck to American interests - wars, politics, discoveries - and reached only far enough to beat into our tender young minds that the ancient Greeks and Romans rocked for inventing our way of government. To remedy that gaping hole in my education, I've been reading more books that don't have a 20-something white female protagonist. Here are a few I've recently enjoyed:

First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung is a memoir of the author's childhood survival of the Cambodian Communist movement in the late 1970s.
Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is a fictional novel about family of missionaries from Georgia who move to the Belgian Congo during the instability during their post-colonial era in the 1960s.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy paints a dreamy, brilliant picture of the inequalities in India's caste system and the political climate in the 1960s.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See is a novel set in rural China in the mid to late 1800s. It touches on the Taiping Revolution, Southern China's civil war, that ranks as the 5th most deadly military conflict in world history.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden is probably the most fictionalized work on my list but I thought it merited mention for opening the door to a very closed world. I heard Geisha, A Life, the autobiography of Golden's main source, Mineko Iwasaki, offers a very different account.

In addition to Iwasaki's memoir, I also have Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children on deck for future reading. I'm always looking for more books to add to my queue so recommendations are very welcome.


  1. I remember nothing about these books because I had only 3 days to read each(I read them in law school for a class called Law & The Humanities, in which we read real books and pretended they somehow related to law... it was taught by two ANCIENT professors who reminded me of the muppets who sit up in the balcony, but, I digress)... all I remember was that I kinda liked them... so, it is up to you how far you want to pursue each...

  2. "The God of Small Things" Arundhati Roy (India)
    "My Name is Red" Orhan Pamuk (16th Centruy Istanbul)
    **"Waiting" Ha Jin (China) and my favorite
    "None to Accompany Me Nadine Gordimer (post apartheid South Africa)