Jola Naibi

Writer and amateur photog. I seek to inspire and inform with the words I write and share and the photos I take. I have written a book of short stories: Terra Cotta Beauty, and I am working on a lot more. Reading and writing fuel my energy. In reading, I explore this vast and diverse world, in writing, I employ my over-active imagination and address the 'what-if' questions that life often throws at us.

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The Key to the Whole Wide World

By on May 15, 2007

One of my favorite things to do is – sit down and read a good book. I have been reading for as long as I can remember and it is a passion that I love to indulge in. In the Book of Ruth, Jane Hamilton, wrote –

It is books that a key to the whole wide world, if you can’t do anything else read all you can.

That’s good advice. However, family life and all that accompanies it has made it difficult for me to read as often as I have in the past and but I still keep a healthy collection of books and often pore over the books sections of magazines and online lists in search of recent releases. Below is a compilation of the plot summaries of some of the books I hope to get to at some point

The Opposite House ~ Helen Oyeyemi

There are some writers who through their writing put the toes of other writers to the fire by arousing the feeling of ‘if she can do it, so can I’ in them. Helen Oyeyemi does that for me. I had picked up her first novel, the Icarus Girl based on someone’s recommendation – and was quite impressed when I learned that she had written it while she was studying for her A’levels, if that is not enough inspiration for us aspiring novelists out there, I am not sure what else is. Here’s a brief synopsis of her second novel courtesy of Powell Books

Maja Carmen Carrerra, the daughter of a black Cuban couple, was only five years old when the family emigrated to London. Growing up, she speaks the Spanish of her native land and the English of her adopted country, but longs for a connection to her African roots. Now in her early twenties, Maja is haunted by thoughts of Cuba and the desire to make sense of the threads of her history. Maja’s mother has found comfort in Santeria—a faith that melds Catholic saints and the Yoruba gods of West African religion. Her involvement with Santeria, however, divides the family as Maja’s father rails against his wife’s superstitions and the lost dreams of the Castro revolution. Maja’s narrative is one of two parallel voices in Oyeyemi’s beautifully wrought novel. Yemaya Saramagua speaks from the other side of the reality wall—in the Somewherehouse, which has two doors, one opening to London, the other to Lagos. A Yoruban goddess, Yemaya is troubled by the ease with which her fellow gods have disguised themselves as saints and reappeared under different names and faces. As Maja and Yemaya move closer to understanding themselves, they realize that the journey to discovering where home truly lies is at once painful and exhilarating.

The Year of Magical Thinking ~Joan Didion

Ms Didion has been described as a journalist, essayist and novelist. I came across her name while I was reading Vanity Fair…the first page I read of that magazine is always the last page which has the Proust questionnaire and this particular edition featured her. To the question What is the trait you most deplore in others, she responded that the act of always speaking one’s mind is highly over-rated because it gives the person who does it some sort of self-gratification much to the utmost bewilderment and unease of the person on the receiving end. I found that both funny and true at the same time…and I went back to the times when I myself had been guilty of speaking my mind, thinking I was doing someone else a favor but not really lending much thought to how it could possibly hurt their feelings. Suffice to say I was eager to find out more about Ms Didion and was sad to hear that in the recent past, she had been confronted by a number of tragic events which she talks about in her recent book which has recently been adapted to a play starring Vanessa Redgrave and is probably still running on Broadway. Here’s a brief synopsis courtesy of Wikipedia

It is an account of the year following the death of the author’s husband .The narrative structure of the book parallels the mental re-living of a tragic event that is common to many experiences of grief. The outline of the story remains constant: Didion and her husband were returning home after a visit to their daughter Quintana Roo Dunne, then in a New York hospital battling a life-threatening illness. At dinner John collapses, is taken to the hospital, and pronounced dead. But with each replay of the event, the focus on certain emotional and physical aspects of the experience shifts. Didion also incorporates medical and psychological research on grief and illness into the book.
Didion applies the iconic reportorial detachment for which she is known to her own experience of grieving; there are few expressions of raw emotion. Through observation and analysis of changes in her own behavior and abilities, she indirectly expresses the toll her grief is taking. She is haunted by questions concerning the medical details of her husband’s death, the possibility that he sensed it in advance, and how she might have made his remaining time more meaningful. Fleeting memories of events and persistent snippets of past conversations with John take on a new significance. Her daughter’s continuing health problems and hospitalizations further compound and interrupt the natural course of grief.

The Innocent Man ~ John Grisham

There was a time when I could boast of having read all of John Grisham’s novels. I used to make it point of duty to make sure I read them because of the frequency with which he churned them out and also because of the compelling storylines which not only focused on the American justice system (The Firm, The Client, The Testament) but also on the simple things in life (The Bleachers, Skipping Christmas, The Painted House). I have not been able to keep up with reading all of his books though and although I read the last one which was called The Broker, I may have missed a few in between. His latest book is a piece of non-fiction centered around true story of what happens to a life when one is charged with a crime one did not commit. Here’s a brief synopsis courtesy Amazon.com

John Grisham tackles nonfiction for the first time with The Innocent Man, a true tale about murder and injustice in a small town (that reads like one of his own bestselling novels). The Innocent Man chronicles the story of Ron Williamson, how he was arrested and charged with a crime he did not commit, how his case was (mis)handled and how an innocent man was sent to death row. Grisham’s first work of nonfiction is shocking, disturbing, and enthralling–a must read for fiction and nonfiction fans.

Wizard of the Crow ~ Ngugi Wa’ Thiongo

Growing up in Nigeria, my first introduction to Kenya was through the novels of Ngugi Wa Thion go. We had the special privilege of having three of his novels featured on our Literature in English syllabus over the years in high school – Weep Not Child, The River Between and a Grain of Wheat were all written in the 1960s and it was interesting to know that he is still writing. Here’s a brief synopsis of his latest novel courtesy of Powell’s com

Commencing in “our times” and set in the “Free Republic of Aburlria,” the novel dramatizes with corrosive humor and keenness of observation a battle for control of the souls of the Aburlrian people. Among the contenders: His High Mighty Excellency; the eponymous Wizard, an avatar of folklore and wisdom; the corrupt Christian Ministry; and the nefarious Global Bank. Fashioning the stories of the powerful and the ordinary into a dazzling mosaic, Wizard of the Crow reveals humanity in all its endlessly surprising complexity
Inés of My Soul- Isabelle Allende

I have loved Isabelle Allende’s books since I read The House of the Spirits…loved it so much I read it again in Spanish just to get a feel of the original writing. I am usually wary of movies made from books, but I did see the movie and loved it – this possibly had something to do with the fact that Meryl Streep whom I admire greatly as an artist was in it. I have read quite a number of her books since then and as an avid fan I am always keenly on the look out for anything new from her. This is her latest and here’s a synopsis courtesy of the book’s publishers.

Born into a poor family in Spain, Inés, a seamstress, finds herself condemned to a life of hard work without reward or hope for the future. It is the sixteenth century, the beginning of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, and when her shiftless husband disappears to the New World, Inés uses the opportunity to search for him as an excuse to flee her stifling homeland and seek adventure. After her treacherous journey takes her to Peru, she learns that her husband has died in battle. Soon she begins a fiery love affair with a man who will change the course of her life: Pedro de Valdivia, war hero and field marshal to the famed Francisco Pizarro. Valdivia’s dream is to succeed where other Spaniards have failed: to become the conquerer of Chile. The natives of Chile are fearsome warriors, and the land is rumored to be barren of gold, but this suits Valdivia, who seeks only honor and glory. Together the lovers Inés Suárez and Pedro de Valdivia will build the new city of Santiago, and they will wage a bloody, ruthless war against the indigenous Chileans—the fierce local Indians led by the chief Michimalonko, and the even fiercer Mapuche from the south. The horrific struggle will change them forever, pulling each of them toward their separate destinies. Inés of My Soul is a work of breathtaking scope: meticulously researched, it engagingly dramatizes the known events of Inés Suárez’s life, crafting them into a novel full of the narrative brilliance and passion readers have come to expect from Isabel Allende

The Ravenscar Dynasty ~ Barbara Taylor Bradford

I fell in love with her writing when I read A Woman of Substance several years ago. The protagonist of that novel Emma Harte was the founding matriarch of a family who will be the subject of several of Ms Taylor Bradford’s subsequent novels – Hold the Dream, Unexpected Blessings, Just Rewards. Personally, I found Unexpected Blessings and Just Rewards bland and shallow but still, I am willing to give the Ravenscar Dynasty – where we are introduced to yet another family- a chance. Here’s a brief synopsis courtesy of Barbara Taylor Bradford.com

On a bitterly cold day in 1904, the Deravenel family’s future changes for ever. When Cecily Deravenel tells her 18-year-old son Edward of the death of his father, brother and cousins in a fire, a part of him dies as well.Edward is comforted by his cousin Neville Watkins, who is suspicious of the deaths. The two men vow to seek the truth, avenge the deaths and take control of the business empire usurped sixty years before. And so begins an epic saga about an astonishing family, set in extraordinary times.Handsome, charismatic and a notorious womaniser, Edward battles his cousin, Henry Grant, for control of the family empire. Elizabeth Wyland, a young widow and a great beauty, stands by his side, and they are secretly married. She is power hungry, and ambitious. But Edward also has a mistress: Jane Shaw, a constant in his life. And as Elizabeth’s jealousy damages their marriage, Edward’s only solace is Bess, his brilliant first born.Edward’s position as the glamorous head of the Deravenels is fatally rocked when betrayal comes from within. Soon, catastrophe threatens to destroy the family and the business…Power and money, passion and adultery, ambittion and treachery – all illuminate a dramatic saga set against the backdrop of the Edwardian Era and the Belle Epoque, just before the First World War.

All Aunt Hagar’s Children ~ Edward P. Jones

It is still a major irritation to me that I have not yet read his debut novel A Known World and it looks likely that I will read All Aunt Hagar’s Children first though because it is a book of short stories (14 in all some of which have been featured in the New York Times) and an easier read. Here’s a brief synopsis courtesy of the book’s website

In the title story, in which Jones employs the first-person rhythms of a classic detective story, a Korean War veteran investigates the death of a family friend whose sorry destiny seems inextricable from his mother’s own violent Southern childhood. In “In the Blink of God’s Eye” and “Tapestry” newly married couples leave behind the familiarity of rural life to pursue lives of urban promise only to be challenged and disappointed. With the legacy of slavery just a stone’s throw away and the future uncertain, Jones’s cornucopia of characters will haunt readers for years to come.

Beneath a Marble Sky ~ John Shors

As an aspiring writer, I am always looking for ways to market my product once it is done, some might call it over-efficiently putting the cart before the horse, I call it dreaming and hoping. It was during one of these voyages on the internet that I came across John Shors’ name. I was impressed by the way he marketed his book – by actively participating in book clubs reading his book (in person or via telecommunications)…it made me curious to find out what his book was about and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was a fictional story based on the creation of the Taj Mahal. Here’s a brief synopsis courtesy of the book’s website –

In 1632, the Emperor of Hindustan, Shah Jahan, consumed by grief over the death of his empress, Mumtaz Mahal, ordered the building of a grand mausoleum to symbolize the greatness of their love. Against scenes of unimaginable wealth and power, murderous sibling rivalries, and cruel despotism, Princess Jahanara tells the extraordinary story of how the Taj Mahal came to be, describing her own life as an agent in its creation and as a witness to the fateful events surrounding its completion.
To escape a brutal arranged marriage, Jahanara must become the court liaison to Isa, architect of the Taj Mahal. She is soon caught between her duty to her mother’s memory, the rigid strictures imposed upon women, and a new, though forbidden, love. With exceptional courage, Jahanara dares to challenge the bigotry and blindness at court in an effort to spare the empire from civil war, and to save her father from his bellicose son, Aurangzeb, a man whose hatred would extinguish the Islamic enlightenment from the Mughal Empire. To do so she must enlist her Hindu friend, Ladli, and her guardian, Nizam, as spies, and urge her brother, Dara, the designated heir to the throne, down from the ivory tower of his philosophical inquiries. The stakes become ever greater when Jahanara must deceive her husband as to the true father of her child, and must protect those closest to her from her enemies’ retaliation.
As a princess and a mother, as a sister and a daughter, Jahanara will find herself faced time and again with impossible choices, and will discover the real meaning of her regal birthright. In Beneath a Marble Sky John Shors recreates an historical Hindustan brimming with breathtaking intrigue and containing the secret truth of the Taj Mahal for a world still in awe of its enduring majesty.

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A few more books which look like they might be worth the read are –
A Thousand Splendid Suns ~ Khaled Hosseini – If you haven’t already please read the Kite Runner by this author. It is an excellent novel telling a generational story set in Afghanistan before and during the Taliban regime. This novel which will be released in the US this month has a similar setting.
Unaccustomed Earth ~ Jhumpa Lahiri – Another collection of short stories from one of the most excellent storytellers to grace our bookshelves with her art. Sadly, we have to wait till 2008 to read this one
The Solomon Key ~ Dan Brown – Given the immense success of The DaVinci Code, the reading world collectively anticipates the release of the sequel. No release date yet from the publishers
The Inheritance of Loss ~ Kiran Desai
The Emperor’s Children~ Claire Messud
Body Surfing ~ Anita Shreve
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan ~ Lisa See
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