Things to Read - Three Books about Living in a Foreign Land

I haven't posted on my own reading lately, mainly because I've read so many bad books in the last few months. Luckily there have been a few great books scattered throughout the awful, most of which center on living in a place very different from where one was born. I must have the travel bug (which isn't surprising).

Anyways, the following three books are all excellent. The sort of books that make you want to park yourself on the couch for a day and just lose yourself for awhile.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls - I read this months ago, but I can't stop thinking about it (I'm also somewhat stretching the definition of "foreign", but just go with it). The novel takes place during the Great Depression and the plot centers around a teenage girl, Thea, whose parents ship her off to boarding school after she commits some sort of horrible act. The book takes forever to tell you exactly what Thea did. In some ways the author overplays her hand, because when you finally learn of Thea's "bad act", you pretty much pieced something similar together about 50 to 100 pages previously. But the writing itself, especially the way the teenage narrator describes the place and the girls around her (who are so different than the people she grew up among) is positively a pleasure to read (some of my favorite quotes are over excerpted over here).

(Sidenote - I discovered this book through Julia's Book Bag, a wonderful site, hop on over and peruse for awhile).

The Cossacks - It feels pretentious to "review" Tolstoy on a mom blog, but I'm going with it, if only because I've read so much crap lately that the Cossacks came as a wonderful surprise. The novella tells the story of an upper class soldier, Dmitri Olenin, who is sent to live with the Cossacks for a year or so. Eventually Olenin comes to love the people so much that he dreams of marrying a local girl, buying a farm, and giving up "the good life." Unfortunately, the people themselves don't necessarily love him back, finding him foreign and odd. Despite being written 150 years ago, the Cossacks reads like a modern day tale - as you hear of more and more people today giving up the modern life in search of a "back to the roots" existence (and, if you remember from long ago, I'm sort of obsessed with life off the grid). In particular, Tolstoy does a fabulous job of recreating the traveler's feeling of never quite fitting in with the local people.

The Hired Man - I just read The Hired Man last week, I waited three days to finish it because I didn't want the book to end (I was also a little scared to know what the end would reveal). The Hired Man tells the story of an English family who purchases an investment property in the Croatian village of Gost, figuring that real estate values will/would escalate now that all the wars have ended. Their story is narrated by the local, hired man, Duro Kolak, whom works for them fixing up the house. Throughout the novel you learn Duro's story, as well as the town's recent history (which isn't pretty). Mainly the novel centers on how people go on and how communities continue to live and work together, after their members have committed horrible acts. It's a sad book, but the writing is so good that it is impossible not to like.

How about everyone else? What have you been reading lately?

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