Book Review – HWJN by Ibraheem Abbas

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Goodreads Synopsis:

HWJN is the #1 selling Arabic book in Saudi, it is a mix between fantasy, SciFi and romance. While most people get excited about legends of spirits and genies (Jinn) and pass it on as they listen to it with awe and horror (after adding their own spices to it); here comes Hawjan. The young Jinni who is in his early nineties to redefine our understanding of the Jinn world that resembles ours in so many ways, still it is a parallel dimension to ours. He shares his tale so that we can live it through a “human” perspective regardless of the differences between our two worlds.
As human populations expand Hawjan found himself surrounded by humans who had built a housing complex in the area surrounding his village forcing him, his mother and grandfather to live in one of these villas that is now haunted by humans. Hawjan’s efforts to avoid interacting with the human family had failed, finding himself madly in love with Sawsan the human, Sawsan was a medical student, gentle and brilliant, barely a quarter of his age. Hawjan was unable to let her know about his feelings until he learned how to communicate with Sawsan through the Ouija board. He found out about her brain cancer that she had hidden from everyone including her family. As Sawsan’s suffering increased and her health deteriorated her father was easy prey for a sorcerer who tricked him into believing that Sawsan’s illness was a result of the devils who had haunted their new home, and so a deadly battle between Hawjan and the devils and sorcerer who had tried extort money from Sawsan’s father. With the help of Eyad (Sawsan’s colleague) who had agreed to Hawjan possessing him so that they would both risk their lives to save Sawsan and her father.

Review:

So, I found out about this book when writing my post about Muslim Sci-Fi to check out and I recently got a comment from the co-author, Yasser Bahjatt, saying he would be honoured to read my reviews of his books and so I just had to get it along with Yaqteenya which I’ll be reading and reviewing soon. I chose to read this one first because I really enjoy stories with Jinn in them and because it’s also a perfect fit for Saudi Arabia for my Read Around the World challenge.

To start off, as this book was originally written in Arabic I am naturally reading a translation. The English translation is very well done and was a pleasure to read. I noticed a lot of reviews on GR in Arabic that complained about the language used however because I am not reading the Arabic version, this was never an issue to me so if those lower reviews put you off, run a few through Google Translate first as the majority of the issues were purely with the language.

I’m a big fan of Jinn in stories and so I was thrilled that this book was written from the perspective of a Jinn named Hawjan. Hawjan’s family home has recently become “haunted” by humans moving in to the area and so although his mother and grandfather move to the roof to escape them, Hawjan lingers in the room that used to be his which now belongs to Sawsan, a young medical student. Hawjan begins to grow close to Sawsan and when one of her friends brings an Ouija Board, he is excited to have the chance to communicate with her. The novel follows the story of their growing friendship and the challenges Hawjan faces in order to protect her from the much more dangerous Jinn.

The worldbuilding in this was excellent. I am unaware how much of it was based on myths and how much was the authors own imagination but the world that was described was brilliant and I loved the differences between the Jinn world and our own. One aspect in particular I liked was the fact that it mentioned that Jinn could be all sorts of different religions. Hawjan himself is a Muslim Jinn and descended from a Jinn that met the Prophet. This plays an important role in the story and it was very interesting to see supernatural characters be represented as also religious in a very natural fashion.

If you are looking to try reading some Fantasy/Sci-Fi in translation then this is an excellent place to start. It’s brilliant for #muslimshelfspace and if you’re looking to expand your horizons and read books from other countries then it’s a great pick. Even then, if you’re simply looking for a nice enjoyable story then I highly recommend this. I could barely put it down and managed to finish it very quickly as I enjoyed it so much.

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Book Review – Iraq +100 ed. by Hassan Blasim

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Iraq + 100 poses a question to ten Iraqi writers: what might your country look like in the year 2103 – a century after the disastrous American- and British-led invasion, and 87 years down the line from its current, nightmarish battle for survival? How might the effects of that one intervention reach across a century of repercussions, and shape the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens, or influence its economy, culture, or politics? Might Iraq have finally escaped the cycle of invasion and violence triggered by 2003 and, if so, what would a new, free Iraq look like? 

Covering a range of approaches – from science fiction, to allegory, to magic realism – these stories use the blank canvas of the future to explore the nation’s hopes and fears in equal measure. Along the way a new aesthetic for the ‘Iraqi fantastical’ begins to emerge: thus we meet time-travelling angels, technophobic dictators, talking statues, macabre museum-worlds, even hovering tiger-droids, and all the time buoyed by a dark, inventive humour that, in itself, offers hope.

Review:

First I’d like to thank Macmillan-Tor for the ARC of this book. It had been on my to-read list for a while as it looked perfect for my Read Around the World challenge and so when I saw it was being re-released I jumped at the chance to get an ARC.

This is a collection of short stories all set 100 years in the future and all written by Iraqi authors and translated by a variety of translators. It’s incredibly fascinating to see all the different ideas they have about what Iraq will be like in the future as they are all so different and varied – and I found it amusing that quite a few all ended up with the same ideas for the US.

Because it’s a collection of short stories, it’s naturally hard to discuss too much without spoiling them but I will say that I really enjoyed all the stories in this collection. Some were definitely stronger than others, but they were all excellent and it was very refreshing to read about Iraq from the perspectives of those who live there themselves rather than from a Western perspective.

This book is a perfect choice for those wanting to read more Muslim authors and I’m very pleased to use it as my pick for Iraq on my Around the World challenge. There is also a fantastic introduction to the collection which discusses the literary scene in Iraq which was very interesting.

Book Review – Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In Canada in 1991, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests.

Her name is Ai-Ming. As her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao’s ascent, to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989.

It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China’s relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming – and for Marie.

Written with exquisite intimacy, wit and moral complexity, Do Not Say We Have Nothing magnificently brings to life one of the most significant political regimes of the 20th century and its traumatic legacy, which still resonates for a new generation. It is a gripping evocation of the persuasive power of revolution and its effects on personal and national identity, and an unforgettable meditation on China today.

Review:

This is another of the novels shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize and I was quite intrigued as it is set in China telling the story of several generations covering important events in recent Chinese history such as that of the Cultural Revolution and includes events such as that of Tiananmen Square.

First and foremost, I found the book incredibly educational into a culture and history that I knew little about. By following the experiences of the characters, it helped bring the history alive in a way that non-fiction can’t really do and managed to cover a large and complex period of time in a way that was easy and compelling to read.

I was very interested in all of the characters that we follow throughout the story and was very intrigued to learn the connections between the families of Ai-Ming and Marie. Music also plays a very strong role in the novel, with many of the characters being musicians or composers and it references a lot of musical pieces. I do not know much about classical music, however this novel really made me want to expand my knowledge of it and if music didn’t distract me, I would have played the pieces mentioned while reading.

I definitely recommend this novel and have chosen to use it for China in my “Around the World” reading challenge as I feel it fits perfectly.

Book Review – The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

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Goodreads Synopsis:

“One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride…”

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

Review:

So, this is another of the books I read back in January for #DiverseAThon and I adored it. It took me a while to get around to writing my review just because I found it difficult to describe how much I loved this book. This book also works well as the book for Malaysia in my Around the World challenge which is perfect as I enjoyed it so much.

The book is part historical fiction, part fantasy and the combination works really well.

The thing that definitely grabs you is the portrayal of Malaysia at the end of the 19th century. The descriptions of the setting are beautiful and create a stunning image of life at that time, and from what I’ve seen in other reviews it’s also a very accurate portrayal. Not only is the physical world excellently described, but the afterlife is also very detailed and again, from what I’ve read, accurate portrayal. Through reading this book, I feel I’ve learned a lot and definitely now have a desire to visit Malaysia myself because of how lovingly it was portrayed.

Next up is the characters, who again are all fantastic and feel very real. They all have their flaws, for example Li Lan is very sheltered, but this contributes greatly to the story and seeing them grow is really lovely. There is some romance in the story, and even a love triangle which I usually despise but I actually really liked how it was handled in this story which is a testament to how much I enjoyed the writing.

Plot-wise, I don’t want to say too much as there are a lot of mysteries in the book that are revealed as you read and I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say though that I really enjoyed the story and it gripped me so much that I didn’t want to put the book down!

I’d definitely recommend this book because it is just delightful and I was just charmed by everything about it. It also has a stunning cover and the descriptions are just so fantastic – especially as a lot of the more traditional things are explained for those unfamiliar with the culture.

 

 

Book Review -The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

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So this is another book I read for #DiverseAThon – I picked it up from Waterstones as the cover was just enchanting and as a big cat lover, I couldn’t resist a book about a cat.

This novella follows a couple who have moved into a small guesthouse in Tokyo and both work from home. Their neighbours adopt a cat who slowly starts to come visit them. The story follows the visits of the cat as they get more frequent and as the cat gets more bold until they even start feeding the cat and create a little bed for it.

As a fan of cats, I adored the cat, nicknamed Chibi, in this book and the interactions between the couple and the cat was charming. The book was a delight to read and went into such depth and detail that it was wonderful. The translation was very well done as it still felt very Japanese but that didn’t affect the readability of it. The writing is magical and I absolutely adored everything about this novella and really enjoyed the small snippets of the characters lives that we got to see.

I would highly recommend this novella, especially since it’s quite short so doesn’t take long to read and the cover is gorgeous.