Monday, 29 August 2011


How I Found Livingstone by Henry M. Stanley (1872)

"I would have run to him, only I was a coward in the presence of such a mob - would have embraced him, but that I did not know how he would receive me; so I did what moral cowardice and false pride suggested was the best thing - walked deliberately to him, took off my hat, and said: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?""
Henry M. Stanley was hired to find Dr. Livingstone who had been missing in Central Africa for years. He sets off from Zanzibar with a large party of men, horses and donkeys, and much cloth and beads to trade with the various Arab sheiks and natives along the way. But the horses aren't made for the tough African conditions, the men desert or die of illness and trading with a hundred different tribes is not easy. Yet he succeeds, and locates Livingstone close to Lake Tanganyika just nine months after departing.

I have been asking myself why I chose to read this particular book now while reading. I seem to have been stuck in a explorers' theme, both fictional and non-fictional. I think this is the first book that I wish had fewer details, I have a feeling that I know every nook and cranny of his route, yet I had to read wikipedia to zoom out. Still, it is an interesting read, I learnt a lot about the Arab slave trade which I stumbled upon first in Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah, and then Out of Africa by Karen Blixen. And the description of the various tribes and races are not so horrible as could be expected at that time, but still not impressive.

The big question now is what to read next? I'm really enjoying the Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad, but I need something less serious to read as well. Any suggestions?

Friday, 26 August 2011


the Opium Clerk by Kunal Basu (2001)

Hiran is born in 1857, the same year as his father dies, and his mother moves them to Calcutta. There, he spends his early years reading palms and attending a religious school, while learning culture from his anglophile uncle. When he is kicked out of the religious school, he starts learning English at the mission school until his mother can't afford his eduction. Then, by luck, he gets a job at the Auction House as a clerk. The Auction House deals with opium, and Hiran quickly learns a lot about the trade. His boss, Mr. Crabbe, takes a liking to him, and Hiran will join him in Canton.

I have been enjoying this book, reading a few pages in bed slowly before falling asleep. The language is beautiful. Hiran's tale is wonderful, but left me somewhat confused at times – when real life and dreams mixed.

My favourite part, however, didn't involve Hiran at all, but his adopted son, Douglas. At one point he takes over the story and Hiran is left behind. The shift is so abrupt that it could have been a new book, although it still deals with the opium trade.

This is one of those books that I really wish was great, but then lacks something. And I never quite seem to get those books that mix real life and dreams.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

fifty-three, fifty-two, fifty-one, fifty: poirot

Lord Edgware Dies (1933)

Lady Edgware, a famous actress who left her husband years ago, asks Hercule Poirot for assistance. She wants a divorce so badly that she utters that she will even murder him. And then the murder happens, and witnesses say they saw lady Edgware at the scene, but she has an alibi.

The ABC Murders (1936)

Hercule Poirot receives a letter warning him of a murder in a town called Andover. After the murder happens, he receives another one, warning of another murder in the town of Bexhill-on-Sea. Will Hercule Poirot catch the murderer before it's too late?

Dumb Witness (1937)

Poirot receives a letter from an old lady who believes she has had a narrow escape from death. When Poirot and Captain Hastings go to investigate, they learn that the lady passed away months ago. The lady has also changed her will just before dying, and everything went to her companion and not her relatives.

Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (1975)

Captain Hastings and Hercule Poirot, now a cripple and on his deathbed, have returned to Styles to solve a final mystery together.

These four stories can be found in the Complete Battles of Hastings volume 2 omnibus.

Having read the last of the Poirot stories, I feel kind of sad. Hercule Poirot (and Captain Hastings) has been a great companion for a long time. I am still shocked over how things ended in Curtain, but at the same time that's the first time Agatha has disappointed me.

I have been trying to compose a list over my favourite Poirot stories, but that has proven to be impossible; I seem to get a new favourite every time.

Friday, 5 August 2011

forty-nine, forty-one, forty: poirot

the Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)

Hastings is visiting an old friend, John Cavendish, at Styles. While he's there, the old lady of the house is murdered; poisoned behind locked doors. Everyone in the household believes it is her husband who killed her, but he has an alibi. So who in the family killed her? Luckily, Hercule Poirot, a Belgian refugee and famous detective, is in the village and he takes the case.

Murder on the Links (1923)

(read in 2010, so copy and paste)
Hercule Poirot receives a telegraph from France asking for urgent help as a man believes he is in grave danger. But Poirot and Hastings arrive too late, the man is already murdered, a grave has been dug but the body is laying outside of it, and his wife was found tied and gagged in bed. A letter indicating blackmail is found, there is a mistress, and clues suggest that South Americans are involved. There is also a famous French detective on the case and the two famous detectives are not very fond of each other. And then a stranger is found murdered in a shed on the property.

the Big Four (1927)
Hercule Poirot is convinced that an international gang of four members is behind all evil in the world. He is on the right track, but the gang is too smart for him and he and Hastings often find themselves in great peril. And then the gang manages the impossible; to kill Hercule Poirot.

Peril at End House (1932)

Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are on a holiday when they meet a young woman who has had a few near-death accidents in the past few days. Poirot is convinced that the woman is in immediate danger, but despite their close watch over the girl, her cousin is murdered by mistake at a party. What will the murderer do when he realises his mistake?

It's been wonderful reading about Hercule Poirot from Captain Hastings' narrative. Captain Hastings is not half as clever as Poirot, but his narrative is a delight to read. The Big Four is so different from any other Poirot story, more like James Bond really.

All four stories are found in the Complete Battles of Hastings volume One omnibus.

Monday, 1 August 2011

forty-two - forty-eight: harry potter

Harry Potter by J.K Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix (2003), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005), Hary Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is the first book I read in English. I had to borrow it in English at the library because the waiting list on the Norwegian version was too long. And since then I have preferred to read in English. I don't know how many times I have read Harry Potter. I used to reread the books when the new one came out, and I know for sure that the last time I reread the series was in 2008.

While rereading the books now, I tried to figure out which book I like the most. It is a hard one. I know it's not the two first ones, because they are too short. I think I have settled on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, because of the introduction of new characters, Hogsmeade and the Marauder's Map. But both Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix could also be my favourite.

I realised how little I care for Harry Potter's fight with Lord Voldemort, and how much I love the setting of the books. I love Hogwarts (the lessons, its history and the castle itself), Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. I have never really been fond of Harry himself, I prefer the other characters in the books, and especially Hermione and Dumbledore. And I found myself wanting more on the background history of everything in the books. Because of my thirsting for more, I will register at Pottermore, which is kind of creepy when you're 28.

I never got the pleasure to read the books as a kid myself, I was probably fifteen or sixteen when I read the first book. I will therefore never know what it's like to let myself be completely captured by the books. But I guess it would be equal to what it was like to read the Chronicles of Narnia; explore the old closet in my grandparents house and hope that it will lead to a secret world, to play out various characters with your friends in the forest on a moonlit winter night.

I do not care much for the films, and I still haven't seen the final one. I don't think they could ever do justice to the books. But I wouldn't mind a tv series about everyday life at Hogwarts.

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