This year again, the sunny summer has gone off my radar – and if you live in Belgium, you might have entirely missed it, too. Here, it shows up on a “now you see me, now you see me not” basis. And while I have to part with my much beloved notion of summer once more on this side of the globe, further south the sun is just settling into its other home for a while. Not fair.
However, to show you that summer has hit Belgium too at some point this year, I took my camera out (and a bunch of books) on the occasion and also got busy with some gardening. Nothing like reading a good book and pulling out of the ground one nasty nettle after the other in-between. And while last very short, timid and fugitive summer proved me beyond the shadow of a doubt that one thing I will not be when I grow up is a decent gardener, it at least gave me the opportunity to read some wonderful books, which I totally recommend. In the back of my garden, they made me travel beyond the beautiful fields and forests of the Flemish countryside.
First among my favourites is Marriage Material – an accidental discovery, as it often happens, the sort you are forever grateful for. Sathnam Sanghera has a beautifully crafted writing style and telling stories is clearly his business. The book conveys deep roots that are familiar to the author: traditional versus modern life of descendants of Punjabi families established in England. All the cliche elements are there: there is the corner shop, there is the never ending struggle to integrate and reconcile family values versus society expectations, there is a wealth of history and luggage from past lives, carried by people from a different country and passed on to the next generation. There is displacement, frustration, love, hate, rules to break from, mistakes to learn from and everything that makes the fragments of life in a Sikh Punjabi community exciting, colourful, and worth reading about. And above all, there is grace and an exceptional writer with a sense of carrying his audience right at the heart of the things he describes. A read that definitely excites all senses and leaves an exquisite after-taste.
A book by Bill Bryson is a guarantee to make me a happy gal on any kind of weather. This time Bill took me Down Under, where I have never been, but which is the place where most of my friends whom I met throughout my travels live. That is because Aussies are generally inescapable, wherever one goes. Bryson loves Australia and says it loud and clear. As always, expect a fair amount of well-researched, interesting and unique information dug out by the Master of hilarious accounts and some extra wrinkles once you’ve finished the book. Hard to put down, as any of Bryson’s works.
In Xanadu is a special kind of journey and the author, William Dalrymple, is not your ordinary travel writer. He is a historian through and through with a vivid interest in art and religion, with an eye for detail that most mortals visiting places will not see and a mind curious enough to bring hidden worlds to life. The book follows the footsteps of Marco Polo on the Silk Route from Jerusalem to inner Mongolia. It portrays a difficult undertaking of a student retracing the past -Dalrymple himself- through challenging, restless and not particularly travel-friendly places marked by political problems and complex bureaucratic systems. An eye-opener in many respects.
I bought Michael Palin’s The Truth at a flea market somewhere in London and it was time for me to finally take it off that shelf I almost forgot it on. I was not disappointed. An engaging and accessible read in a flowing, catchy journalistic style, this work of fiction exposes some dark areas of modern-times troubles surrounding the publishing industry, for instance, as well as environmental issues. Thanks to it, I also discovered that Mr Monty Python has a travel website where you can find out more about the man himself and his adventures around the world: http://www.themichaelpalin.com/
India has been quite present in my mind this summer, with the sad celebration of 70 years since the Partition covered by the media channels. And so I thought I would finally give a go to a book I actually bought in India two years ago: it’s time for Alex Rutherford’s Empire of the Moghul series. A blend of history and fiction, this promises to keep me entertained for a little while. And what better to make the transition from summer to autumn than to indulge in the world of spices and warriors and great empires!
While Indian summer remains an unfulfilled dream and a rather wishful thinking where I am currently located, there is a lot of comfort, thrill and fulfillment to be found in those many books waiting for me to open. One page at a time, rain or sunshine, keep on reading.