April's Angolan Read is...

Before now, I knew very little about Angola. I’d only known of its wars, its vast petroleum exports, & of the Portuguese influence.

I didn’t know about its beauty—that it’s a hidden gem just starting to be discovered by travelers. If you’re curious about the level of travel safety in Angola, you may be as shocked as I was to find out that as of today the US Dept. of State lists it only as a level 1 travel advisory. That’s “Exercise normal precautions. Some areas have increased risk.” This is on a scale where 0 is the lowest threat level (e.g., the US & Canada) & 4 is the highest level (e.g., North Korea). To put Angola’s low-level 1 rating into perspective, areas I personally consider safe—the UK, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Germany, & France—are all listed at a higher threat level (level 2 which is “Exercise increased precautions”)!

Because Angola is considered a safe country, I became very curious what a trip there could look like & found this alluring 6-minute video from The Road Chose Me that I just had to share.

Between the gorgeous vistas from the video above & the fact that there’s even some scuba diving in Angola, I’ve now added Angola to my list of countries to visit soon.


Winner of the Dublin International Literary Award & the English Pen Award, shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, & shortlisted for the 3% Best Translated Book Award

“The story challenges what we imagine to be the clearly drawn lines between 'hero' and 'villain' and forces a reconsideration of history and our fictions. It does what the best of literature ought to do: keep us glued to our seats, unable to break away.“ - Words Without Borders

“On the eve of Angolan independence, Ludo bricks herself into her apartment, where she will remain for the next thirty years. She lives off vegetables and pigeons, burns her furniture and books to stay alive and keeps herself busy by writing her story on the walls of her home.

As the country goes through various political upheavals from colony to socialist republic to civil war to peace and capitalism, the world outside seeps into Ludo's life through snippets on the radio, voices from next door, glimpses of someone peeing on a balcony, or a man fleeing his pursuers. A General Theory of Oblivion is a perfectly crafted, wild patchwork of a novel, playing on a love of storytelling and fable.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Leslie Tchaikovsky for the suggestion.)

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Happy reading!

Which Angolan Book Should We Read?

While few books & poems from Angola are published online as well as translated into English, the Angolan authors that can be found are hypnotic as you can see from this description of a thunderstorm breaking over a musseque (i.e., a sprawling slum or shantytown):

“When the first big thunderclap burst above the musseque, shivering the weak walls of mud and wattle and loosening boards, cardboard, and straw mats, everyone closed their eyes, frightened by the blue brilliance of the lightning born in the sky, a great spider web of fire.“ - From Luuanda by José Luandino Vieira

You’ll notice this month that we only have included 5 books on which to vote instead of our customary 6 & that all the books are written by just 2 authors. This is because after days of intense searching, we only found 2 authors with those 5 books which meet our club requirements (i.e., native Angolan authors, books about Angola, & available as both ebooks/paperbacks). Well, to be fair, we actually found a 6th book which is likely written by an Angolan since the author is a general in the Angolan army. However, reviews have noted that instead of it being an Angolan historical book, it’s actually Angolan army propaganda which is not something we feel comfortable suggesting to the book club. But we’re happy to have the 5 books we have included especially since they all have great reviews. Special thanks to Leslie Tchaikovsky & Carol Weldon for suggesting 2 of the books included in the final list. Before we get to the vote, first…

A Musical Interlude

While researching Angola, I was astonished to find some fantastic, upbeat music from Angola during a particularly bloody time in the country’s war for independence. This collection of Angolan music included here from Luanda (the capital of the country) is so engagingly funky that I’ve been listening (& shimmying) to it every day while I cook. I highly recommend it! And since it’s available to stream online for free if you’re an Amazon Prime member, why not try it? Tracks #13 Fuma (Smokes), #14 Passeio por Luanda (Stroll through Luanda), & #17 Pica O Dedo (Scratch Your Finger) are my favorites.


You can vote from now until Sat., March. 23 11PM ET. (That's NYC time. See this converted to your local time below.)

Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com

To participate:

1. Review the books.

2. Then, click here to vote.

We'll publish the anonymous results afterwards so you can get the book in advance.

Guess Which Country We're Visiting This Spring

Imagine an awe-inspiring beautiful country filled with white sand beaches, a labyrinthine system of rivers, canyons, mountains, lush jungle, & desert.

What country comes to mind?

What if I added in 27 years of war in your life time, vast mineral & petroleum reserves, & noted an enclave was separated from the main land of this country by a 37-mile (60-km) wide strip of a completely different country? (An enclave that is also ethnically & linguistically separate from the rest of the country, & is far richer.)

If you still can’t guess, would it help or confuse you if I added in that its cuisine is heavily influenced by the Portuguese?

(I bet you’re now trying to picture Portugal on a map & remember what countries Portugal invaded.)

So What country are we reading next?

A West Coast country of South-central Africa: the Republic of Angola! (And that enclave is called Cabinda.)

In researching Angola, what moved me most was the powerful trailer below of a documentary detailing “four war veterans and former enemies of the South Africa/Angola conflict who journey back to past battlefields deep within the African interior in search of reconciliation, forgiveness, and possibly even atonement.”

From My Heart of Darkness (https://amzn.to/2VUU5xK): We are all here for the same reason—driven by the need to understand…to set off on a frightening journey into the darkest of our hearts.”


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Just let us know your Angolan suggestions by Fri., March. 15 11PM ET. (That's NYC time. See this converted to your local time below.)

Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com

We'll use 2 suggestions from book club members, 2 suggestions from Mia (the book club co-founder), & 2 of my suggestions to compile a list of 6 books on which book club members will provide their thoughts. The book judged as best from the list will then be read.

Please note - We're specific in our books, they must: 

  • Largely occur in the location specified unless the world described is an alternate reality

  • Be written by an author born there who has spent a good portion of their life there

  • Exist in paperback & ebook available on both Amazon & Kindle at least in the US & hopefully elsewhere

Your Russian Blind Date with a Book is...

BlindDatewithaBook.com  was the fabulous inspiration for our blind date game this month.

BlindDatewithaBook.com was the fabulous inspiration for our blind date game this month.

As I noted in a previous post, setting up the blind date methodology was a lot of work, but it looks like the vast majority of you really enjoyed the surprise element of it all. We had a wide variety of positive comments saying things like “Fun! Like Tinder dating with reading....great work.” & “I loved this experience!”

However, there were a small number of people who weren’t as happy preferring to only vote for books at their library (which we totally understand) as well as folks who wanted more descriptions or desired to know each book genre.

However, this was the best voting turnout we’ve ever had so it’s clear most agree it never hurts to mix things up!

Just a few background notes before we get down into the results:

  • We purposely didn’t include the genre because with only 6 books, people would then only vote for their preferred genre which defeats the purpose of our blind date with a book. (It’s different when libraries do this as they’ll have a whole bookcase of 30, 50, or more books with multiples of the same genre.)

  • Usually, Mia & I try to include a variety of genres for our picks to balance out the member suggestions, but this time, Mia & I played along in the blind date where we could so just like you, we sent in suggestions without knowing anyone else’s.

  • We decided not to include my vote because we felt it wasn’t fair that I knew all the books when no one else did. (Mia only knew the 2 books she suggested & Ivor knew none of the books.)

  • We got 5 book suggestions this month & randomly chose 2. If you want to see that list of books or how they were randomly chosen, here’s the screencast.

Reminder: No one aside from the book club management team is ever required to read the monthly book or participate in the discussions. We want reading to be fun! So if the book voted in is one you don’t like, no worries. Feel free to read one of the other books or just join us for the April read instead.

And now without further ado, here are the results of the vote with the books listed in order from the least want to read to the most along with their original descriptive words/phrases.

Voting Results

Described in our March Blind Date with a Book as:
Black humor
Writing vignettes

Final voting score: 38

The House of the Dead

“In January 1850, Dostoyevsky was sent to a remote Siberian prison camp for his part in a political conspiracy. The four years he spent there, startlingly re-created in The House of the Dead, were the most agonizing of his life. In this fictionalized account, he recounts his soul-destroying incarceration through the cool, detached tones of his narrator, Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov: the daily battle for survival, the wooden plank beds, the cabbage soup swimming with cockroaches, his strange ‘family’ of boastful, ugly, cruel convicts. Yet The House of the Dead is far more than a work of documentary realism: it is also a powerful novel of redemption, describing one man’s spiritual and moral death and the miracle of his gradual reawakening.”

Note: This Penguin Classics translation by David McDuff is the one we recommend. Other translations are often considered poor (e.g., where “the house of the dead” was translated as “the dead house”…how can a house be dead?) or use overhyped translators who offer stilted writing as in the case of the co-translation by Richard Pevear/Larissa Volokhonskyan who write of an “alive dead house” instead of “a house of the living dead”). Only one note to be aware of with the Penguin Classic translation—read the introduction after the novel because it may contain spoilers as most Penguin Classic intros do.

(A special thank you to book club member, Sheena M. for the suggestion.)

Genres: political, historical fiction

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Described in our March Blind Date with a Book as:
Stream of consciousness writing
Strong imagery
Thought provoking

Final voting score: 52


The inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984.

”Yevgeny Zamyatin's We is set in an urban glass city called OneState, regulated by spies and secret police. Citizens of the tyrannical OneState wear identical clothing and are distinguished only by the number assigned to them at birth. The story follows a man called D-503, who dangerously begins to veer from the 'norms' of society after meeting I-330, a woman who defies the rules. D-503 soon finds himself caught up in a secret plan to destroy OneState and liberate the city.

The failed utopia of We has been compared to the works of H.G. Wells, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley. It was the first novel banned by the Soviets in 1921, and was finally published in its home country over a half-century later.”

Note: This translation by Mirra Ginsburg is the one we recommend. A good second choice would be the translation from Clarence Brown. Other translations are considered poor or awkward.

Genre: science fiction

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Described in our March Blind Date with a Book as:
Dark, absurdist humor

Final voting score: 55

“One of The Telegraph's Best Fiction Books 2011

Moscow, 2028. A cold, snowy morning.

Andrei Danilovich Komiaga is fast asleep. A scream, a moan, and a death rattle slowly pull him out of his drunken stupor—but wait, that's just his ring tone. And so begins another day in the life of an oprichnik, one of the czar's most trusted courtiers—and one of the country's most feared men.

Welcome to the new New Russia, where futuristic technology and the draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible are in perfect synergy. Corporal punishment is back, as is a divine monarch, but these days everyone gets information from high-tech news bubbles, and the elite get high on hallucinogenic, genetically modified fish.

Over the course of one day, Andrei Komiaga will bear witness to—and participate in—brutal executions; extravagant parties; meetings with ballerinas, soothsayers, and even the czarina. He will rape and pillage, and he will be moved to tears by the sweetly sung songs of his homeland. He will consume an arsenal of drugs and denounce threats to his great nation's morals. And he will fall in love—perhaps even with a number of his colleagues.

Vladimir Sorokin, the man described by Keith Gessen (in The New York Review of Books) as "[the] only real prose writer, and resident genius" of late-Soviet fiction, has imagined a near future both too disturbing to contemplate and too realistic to dismiss. But like all of his best work, Sorokin's new novel explodes with invention and dark humor. A startling, relentless portrait of a troubled and troubling empire, Day of the Oprichnik is at once a richly imagined vision of the future and a razor-sharp diagnosis of a country in crisis.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Andi McCraine for the suggestion.)

Genres: political, science fiction, satire

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Described in our March Blind Date with a Book as:
Entertains as it provokes
Confusing at first, but addictive

Final voting score: 61

Hard to be a God

“An enjoyable, exciting, and gratifying novel.”  - The NY Times

“A thoroughly good book . . . robust, imaginative, satisfying.”  - Ursula K. Le Guin

“Don Rumata has been sent from Earth to the medieval kingdom of Arkanar with instructions to observe and to save what he can. Masquerading as an arrogant nobleman, a dueler, and a brawler, he is never defeated, but yet he can never kill. With his doubt and compassion, and his deep love for a local girl named Kira, Rumata wants to save the kingdom from the machinations of Don Reba, the first minister to the king. But given his orders, what role can he play? This long overdue translation will reintroduce one of the most profound Soviet-era novels to an eager audience. ”

Note: This translation by Olena Bormashenko is the one we recommend. Other versions are English translations of a bad German translation.

Genres: science fiction, fantasy

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Described in our March Blind Date with a Book as:
Weighty, but hopeful
Informal writing

Final voting score: 66

 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

The novel that won Alexander Solzhenitsyn the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature."

"First published in the Soviet journal Novy Mir in 1962, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich stands as a classic of contemporary literature. The story of labor-camp inmate Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, it graphically describes his struggle to maintain his dignity in the face of communist oppression. An unforgettable portrait of the entire world of Stalin's forced work camps, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is one of the most extraordinary literary documents to have emerged from the Soviet Union and confirms Solzhenitsyn's stature as 'a literary genius whose talent matches that of Dosotevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy'.”

Note: This translation by Harry T. Willetts is the one we recommend. This is the original, unexpurgated novel brilliantly translated by someone who worked closely with Solzhenitsyn to fully capture the power and beauty of the original Russian. This is the only English translation authorized by the Russian author."

(This book is actually a favorite of both Beth & Mia…the only book in the club’s current reading list across all countries & genres that they both agree is outstanding!)

Genre: historical fiction

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Described in our March Blind Date with a Book as:
Fast paced

Final voting score: 79 which makes it our read for March!

Night Watch

"Night Watch is an epic of extraordinary power." - Quentin Tarantino

“Brace yourself for [an adult version of] Harry Potter in Gorky Park. . . . The novel contains some captivating scenes and all kinds of marvelous, inventive detail.” -The Washington Post Book World

“An international bestseller [as] potent as a shot of vodka. . . . [A] compelling urban fantasy." -Publishers Weekly

“They are the ‘Others,’ an ancient race of supernatural beings—magicians, shape-shifters, vampires, and healers—who live among us. Human born, they must choose a side to swear allegiance to—the Dark or the Light—when they come of age.

For a millennium, these opponents have coexisted in an uneasy peace, enforced by defenders like the Night Watch, forces of the Light who guard against the Dark. But prophecy decrees that one supreme ‘Other’ will arise to spark a cataclysmic war.

Anton Gorodetsky, an untested mid-level Light magician with the Night Watch, discovers a cursed young woman—an Other of tremendous potential unallied with either side—who can shift the balance of power. With the battle lines between Light and Dark drawn, the magician must move carefully, for one wrong step could mean the beginning of annihilation.”

Genre: fantasy

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Happy reading!