Monday, June 10, 2019



If you’re old enough to remember Ronald Reagan’s presidency, you’re likely to recall when the United States invaded the Caribbean island country of Grenada. The war lasted only a few days before the U.S. declared victory, and I don’t think I’ve seen anything in the news about Grenada since.

With that as my only frame of reference, I was looking forward to learning more about Grenada for this blog post. I was very happy to find a Grenadian author who had written a thriller, which is my favorite literary genre. The Bone Readers, by Jacob Ross, is set on the fictional island of Camaho, which appears to be very much like Grenada. In fact, the book’s narrator talks about how the two hundred square miles of island territory had been enough “to frighten the hell out of Ronald Reagan in my mother’s time; enough to have him put an aircraft carrier on our horizon and launch Blackhawk helicopter gunships and F-16 bombers to pound us into the sea.”

But The Bone Readers isn’t about Grenada’s war with the United States. It’s about a young boy, the illegitimate son of the police commissioner and his servant, who grows up to become a police detective himself. Michael “Digger” Digson, a recent high school graduate with no prospects, witnesses a murder, and his powers of observation help the police identify almost all the killers. He is offered a job by the detective superintendent, which he accepts in spite of his negative view of the police.

One reason Digger agrees to go to work as a police detective is to try to uncover the truth of his mother’s death. She left the house when Digger was eight years old to attend a rally protesting the rape and murder of a schoolgirl by the son of a high-ranking official. During the protest, an order was given for the police to shoot into the crowd, and Digger’s mother was killed. However, her body was never recovered.

While Digger’s mother’s case is always on his mind, the plot centers around a cold case of a young man who disappeared a few years previously. Investigating the case leads Digger and Miss K. Stanislaus, who has been brought in to help, into dangers they couldn’t have predicted.

The Bone Readers kept me interested and entertained. If I have one complaint, it’s that the author’s use of the local patois made the dialogue a little hard to interpret from time to time. Aside from that, I really enjoyed this book. A press release from the publisher says that The Bone Reader is the first book in the author’s Camaho Quartet. The other three don’t appear to have been written yet, but when they come out, I’ll be eager to read them.


I’m afraid Grenada got short-changed in the cooking portion of this post. I had wanted to make potato pone, a type of sweet potato pudding that was mentioned a couple of times in The Bone Readers, but the recipe called for an ingredient I couldn’t find. I have family coming for a visit this week, and I really wanted to get this blog done before they arrive, since I won’t be doing any blogging while they’re here. So I just started looking for the easiest Grenadian recipe I could find.

What I found was a recipe on the Simple Grenadian Cooking website for fried plantains with only two ingredients – oil and plantains. These tasty little morsels couldn’t have been any easier to make, and they were a delicious little snack.


There are no projects listed for Grenada at, so I searched the Internet and found PLAN!T Now, which “encourages people and communities to access the tools they need before severe weather strikes to reduce the loss of life and destruction caused by storms.”

This organization was originally formed as the Grenada Relief Fund after the island was devastated in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan. By focusing on preparedness, PLAN!T NOW hopes to mitigate the effects of future storms. More information about this organization is available at


Friday, May 31, 2019



I looked at a few book options for my blog post about Greece. Contemporary novels such as The Scapegoat, by Sophia Nikolaidou, and The Third Wedding, by Costas Taktsis, looked interesting, but in the end, I decided to go with the Nikos Kazantzakis classic, Zorba the Greek. I wish I’d chosen a different book.

The title character, 65-year-old Alexis Zorba, is portrayed as a larger-than-life man of the earth, the perfect Dionysian foil to the narrator’s Apollonian personality. The narrator, who is never named, and Zorba meet in a café and decide to go to Crete together, where Zorba will supervise the workers in a lignite mining operation the narrator is financing.

They quickly settle into life in the village, where Zorba immediately takes up with their landlady, an older woman whose glory days are behind her. He has a pattern of seeking out widows in whichever towns he visits, assuming they’ll be grateful for his attention.

The narrator, on the other hand, is more interested in his studies. He is a student of Buddha and spends his time reading and writing. Zorba is determined to make the narrator more like him, enjoying the here and now, rather than burying his head in his books. The narrator seems to agree. At one point during a hike through the countryside, he sees a flock of cranes and thinks, “Once more there sounded within me, together with the cranes’ cry, the terrible warning that there is only one life for all men, that there is no other, and that all that can be enjoyed must be enjoyed here. In eternity no other chance will be given to us.”

It seemed to me that it would have been better if Zorba had tried to be a little more like the narrator instead, or if they had each tried to learn from the other. The choice shouldn’t have to be between purely flesh or purely spirit – a happy life should embrace both.

I know that it’s unrealistic to read older books through the lens of today’s social mores, but I was never able to get past the attitudes toward women displayed in this book. Zorba’s belief that women were just waiting to be grabbed and made love to, the disgust of one old man with the fact that his old wife was no longer young and pretty, and the agreement among the townspeople that a young widow should die because she resisted the advances of a young man who later killed himself all made me question why on earth this was such a popular book. I haven’t seen the movie version of Zorba the Greek, but I can only hope that Anthony Quinn evoked Zorba’s earthiness and joie de vivre without also glorifying his misogyny.


As one might expect in a book extolling earthly pleasures, food descriptions are sprinkled liberally throughout Zorba the Greek. The island of Crete had an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, but no specific dishes were mentioned. In looking through Greek recipes online, I found one on the Gourmandelle website for a vegan pastitsio, a baked pasta dish topped with bechamel sauce, that sounded good. The list of ingredients was long, and the recipe involved lots of chopping and several different steps. The lentils and veggies could have used a little more simmering, and the bechamel sauce never did thicken. Nevertheless, the pastitsio was good – even my non-vegan husband liked it – but making it definitely requires a time commitment. 

GIVE listed a couple of dozen projects for Greece. Most of them involved assistance to refugees, but I wanted a project helping the Greek people themselves. I found one that provides emergency relief packages to families who are suffering the effects of the austerity measures the Greek government has been forced to adopt.  According to the project description, “63 percent of the Greek work force is unemployed or poor,” with “more than 1,000,000 jobless in Greece.”

The emergency relief packages, which are being provided to 4,750 newly-jobless parents with young children, include things like food, personal hygiene items, and school supplies. In addition, people identified for assistance receive “free psychological support sessions to both fragile parents & children, free health care and optometrist, free hairdressing, free private lessons for kids who need it.” More information about this project is available at


Saturday, May 18, 2019



After struggling with the book I chose for my post about Germany, I was happy to find a book for Ghana that kept me interested and entertained. I hesitate to call The Seasons of Beento Blackbird, by Akosua Busia, a beach read, since that conjures up an image of literary fluff, which this book was not. But it was full of romance, sympathetic characters, and beautiful descriptions of exotic locations, making it the perfect book to take on vacation.

Solomon Eustace Wilberforce is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who writes bestselling children’s books under the pseudonym Beento Blackbird. He is tall, handsome, wealthy, charming, kind, well-spoken – in short, he is the epitome of the saying, “Men want to be him, and women want to be with him.” He has a complicated life, although apparently it works well for him. He spends winters with his Caribbean wife Miriam on the island of Cape Corcos, summers with his second wife Ashia in a small village in Ghana, and spring and fall in Manhattan writing his books and dealing with his publisher, where his agent Sam is secretly in love with him.

Why, then, is he living as a hermit in a cave on the tiny Caribbean island of Saint Germaine when the book opens? He has been missing and presumed dead for five months, leaving behind a trail of broken-hearted women.

In spite of outward appearances, Solomon’s life is not as perfect as it seems. He has abandonment issues, stemming from no relationship with his father in the early years of his life, followed by an uneasy relationship with him in Solomon’s teen years, and rejection by his father’s wife and other children. His biggest sorrow, though, is that he has no children of his own, despite having two wives. Hiding from the world for five months gives him the time and space to work though these issues and decide what is really important to him.

The book’s author, Akosua Busia, is an actress who played the role of Nettie Harris in The Color Purple. The Seasons of Beento Blackbird is the only book she has written, which is a shame, because I would certainly like to read more of her beautiful writing.


Peanuts are an important crop in Ghana. During one of his visits to the small village where his Ghanaian wife lives, Solomon, Ashia, and her little brother and sister visit a peanut farm and eat their fill. “Solomon felt like Kummaa looked, and Kummaa looked stuffed.” With that in mind, I searched for a recipe that included peanuts and found one on for Ghanaian vegan peanut soup. is a website that advertises various food brands, which meant that the peanut rub the recipe called for wasn’t something I could find at any local grocery stores, so I left it out. I also skipped the fufu. I thought this soup was exceptionally good – the type of thing I’d be thrilled with if I’d ordered it in a restaurant, and the perfect dish for an unexpectedly rainy day.


In The Seasons of Beento Blackbird, Solomon is passionate about making life better for children. In one part of the book, he reminds himself about why he writes the Beento Blackbird books: “Beento Blackbird, freedom flier from the Ashanti gold mines of Ghana, West Africa. My mission is to protect, enlighten, and inspire all the underprivileged and misinformed children of the world.” Solomon has traveled all over Africa doing research for his books, but the place that has been seared into his soul is Gorée Island off the coast of Senegal, which, according to the UNESCO website, “was the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast” from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century. In particular, he agonized about the room where the children had been kept. “Once alone inside the room, Solomon had slid down, leaned against the stone wall, and grieved over all the children who had died in that very spot.”

We like to think that slavery is a thing of the past, but in looking through the projects in Ghana listed on the website, I found one titled, “Saving Children Sold Into Slavery in Ghana,” and this is the project that received my donation. According to the description on the website: “Lake Volta is one of the world's largest man-made lakes and sustains a large fishing industry. Due to extreme poverty and lack of information, some parents/caretakers give their children to fishermen, unaware of the harsh living and working conditions awaiting them. The children work extremely long hours, are mostly deprived of education and often malnourished. Some of them are exposed to physical and sexual abuse.”

The International Organization for Migration works to rescue these children, and also to educate communities about “the rights of children and the responsibility of parents and communities to protect them and not give them away to fishermen.” More information about this project is available at


Thursday, May 9, 2019



Germany has a rich literary history, so I had lots of books to choose from for this post. I decided to go with a book that’s on the late rock icon David Bowie’s list of one hundred books. The author of A Book of Book Lists, Alex Johnson, describes Bowie’s list this way: “It is a list of books he felt were important rather than his actual 100 favourite reads.”

I wish I could have seen whatever it was that Bowie saw in this book, but unfortunately, I found The Quest for Christa T., by Christa Wolf, to be confusing, hard to follow, and frankly, somewhat tedious. It tells the story of a young woman – always Christa T., never just Christa – who grows up in Germany during the Nazi era and then the Soviet occupation of East Germany.

The book’s narrator is a friend who met Christa T. during what appears to have been their high school years. They lose touch, but reconnect later in graduate school. We learn early on that Christa T. dies at a relatively young age from leukemia, and her friend, the narrator, whose name we never know, ends up with all of Christa T.’s writings. It seems that Christa T. had a fear of vanishing without a trace, so she was always writing things down – in her diary, on scraps of papers, in letters – writings that she often then destroyed “so that the right hand needn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

Christa T. goes through the motions of living – school, work, getting married, having children – but seems to find little joy in any of it. At one point, she even contemplates suicide: “Why should I go on deluding myself: there’s no gap for me to live in.” And yet something about her is a source of endless fascination to the narrator.

Apparently, this book was extremely controversial when it first came out. According to the blurb on the back of the book, “When The Quest for Christa T. was first published in East Germany, there was an immediate storm: bookshops in East Berlin were given instructions to sell it only to well-known customers professionally involved in literary matters; at an annual meeting of the East German Writers Conference, Mrs. Wolf’s new book was condemned. Yet the novel has nothing explicitly to do with politics.”

Maybe The Quest for Christa T. would be more meaningful to me if I had a better understanding of the events that were occurring in East Germany during the time covered by this novel. As it is, I’m sure the significance of many of the book’s details were lost on me, so I’m hard-pressed to explain how the government of East Germany could have found this book to be so threatening.


Food didn’t play a huge role in The Quest for Christa T., but there were several references to potatoes, so I made Black Forest Potato Salad from a recipe I found on the International Vegetarian Union (IVU) website. This isn’t your typical potato salad, as the ingredients include sauerkraut and an apple, both of which were also mentioned in The Quest for Christa T. The recipe was very easy to make, and it was tasty enough, but the cider vinegar and the sauerkraut made it rather more tart than I would have liked.


One of the themes in The Quest for Christa T. appears to be the struggles that young people face in school and in life. Teachers and mentors can help students cope with these problems, which is why I chose an organization from’s website that helps to find and support mentors for pupils in Berlin. Most of the children helped by this program live in an area in which the majority of the inhabitants are immigrants from many different countries. Among the benefits of providing mentors to the children in this program are improved language skills and increased self-esteem, which lead to better opportunities for them in the long-run. More information about this mentoring project is available at


Saturday, April 27, 2019



Georgia is one of the countries making up the Caucasus, a region nestled between Asia and Europe. It was once part of the Soviet Union, and Sacred Darkness, by Levan Berdzenishvili, is a portrayal of life as a political prisoner in the Soviet gulag.

Having read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s grim chronicle, The Gulag Archipelago, many years ago, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read another book about the gulag. But Sacred Darkness was different. For starters, it’s fiction, even though it’s based on the author’s real-life experiences as a political prisoner in a Soviet prison camp. As a work of fiction, it’s very entertaining, although the description on the book’s cover is something of an overstatement: “The only book on the Soviet gulags that’s impossible to read without laughing.”

Each chapter is about a different inhabitant of the camp. There’s a mentally-challenged young man who relives all of his late brother’s war heroics as if they were his own. There’s a prisoner who’s obsessed with calculations and numbers, and another who’s a philologist, always ready to debate the fine points of the various Caucasian alphabets. Political prisoners in the camp include an electrician, taxi driver, movie projectionist, inventor, former military officer, psychologist, and members of many other professions. My favorite chapter is about Butov, a theoretical physicist who was arrested for maintaining an underground library of anti-Soviet literature. When the authorities finally found the library, they burned everything in it in a fire that lasted a week. Unbeknownst to them, Butov had microfilmed most of the collection, so the vast majority of the library's materials survived, even though the hard copies were destroyed.

Interwoven with the characters’ individual stories are details of life in the camp. The work the prisoners are expected to do is to sew heavy-duty work mitts. When their work is done, they pass the time by playing games, reading the books that make it past the censor, and having Socratic debates about any number of topics, with one prisoner or another playing the role of Socrates. Their food supplies are meager, and they drink as much tea and smoke as many cigarettes as their finances allow. The narrator also introduces the reader to the cats who live in the camp: “… the very old cat Vasika, the fine young cat Gipsy, and the sweet gentle Ada.”

Although there is much in this book that fits in with our expectations of what one might find in prison literature, such as conflicts with prison officials and arguments between prisoners of different nationalities, the fact that the inmates are political prisoners gives the book a whole different feeling. In this prison, no one is worried about getting shanked by another inmate. Everyone is there for crimes of political activism against the Soviet Union, not acts of violence.

What surprised me was that the leader of the Soviet Union during the period covered by this book was Mikhail Gorbachev, and the real-life people on whom the characters are based were imprisoned during the era of glasnost and perestroika. Knowing that the Soviet Union fell under Gorbachev’s leadership, I was not expecting to read that so much political repression was still taking place while he was president.

I enjoyed Sacred Darkness much more than I expected to, and I’m glad that the author has gone on to have a fulfilling life after his experiences in the gulag.


During one of the Socratic debates that occurred between prisoners in Sacred Darkness, the topic discussed was food. The narrator played the role of Socrates, and another prisoner took on the character of Anaxogoras, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. After a lengthy debate about the fine points of various international culinary specialties, the narrator, as Socrates, forced an admission from the prisoner playing Anaxogoras that a Georgian dish called satsivi was the best dish in the world. How, then, could I not choose satsivi to make for this blog post?

The problem is that satsivi is made with turkey. Fortunately, I was able to find a recipe on the “Georgian Journal” website for a vegan version that uses mushrooms in place of the turkey. With this recipe, I encountered a new problem: where on earth to find the spice blend the recipe called for. It’s called khmeli suneli, and my local spice shop didn’t have it. I drove to an international market in a nearby city, and searched spice jars and packets in languages I can’t read until I finally found what I was looking for. This packet of khmeli suneli (or, as the packet says in fine print on the back, hmeli-suneli) is a blend of salt, coriander seeds, fenugreek, sweet paprika, basil, bay leaf, red hot pepper, turmeric, mint, and marjoram.

The satsivi was pretty good, served over a bed of white rice. I was a little underwhelmed with my first bite, so I sprinkled on a little salt and that made a big difference. After all the trouble I went to in searching for the khmeli suneli, I was shocked to realize that the recipe called for only a third of a teaspoon, so the flavor was virtually imperceptible when added to four cups of mushrooms. At this rate, I’ll have to make this dish many more times in order to use up the whole packet of khmeli suneli! If you decide to try out this recipe, be generous with the pomegranate seed garnish, which gives the dish a nice little zing.

GIVE listed three projects in Georgia. All seemed worthy, so I chose the one that had received the fewest donations, an effort to raise funds to buy an adapted minivan to transport children with disabilities to a daycare center in order to provide them with “a personal development plan and consultations with psychologists, doctors and occupational therapists.”

According to the project description, “Families living in rural areas of Georgia have limited access to public transportation services. In addition, available buses, largely from the Soviet period, are not safe or adapted for people in wheelchairs. In order to provide our services, the organization currently pays for the private transportation of children with disabilities. The cost of this service is very expensive and does not provide the safest method of transportation, as the private cars [they currently use] are also not adapted for wheelchairs.”


Sunday, April 14, 2019



Dayo Forster’s Reading the Ceiling opens with a young woman named Ayodele lying in bed on her eighteenth birthday and deciding that this is the day she will lose her virginity. Having been warned by her mother for years that men only want one thing, Ayodele thinks, “I want to get this sex thing over and done with so my life can move on.” She doesn’t have a boyfriend, so the question becomes who she will find to do the deed with. She thinks about her choices – Reuben, a guy who likes her but whom she doesn’t particularly fancy; Yuan, a classmate that she likes, and who likes her, but their relationship hasn’t yet taken on a romantic aspect; Frederick, the father of one of her friends, who seems like he’d be willing; and Osman, her mother’s servant, as a last resort.

Ayodele goes to a party at a disco that night, and she does indeed lose her virginity. The next third of the book tells the story of her life after that incident. But just when I started wondering how there could possibly be enough left to say to carry the plot through the remaining two-thirds of the book, the author shifts the narrative. She starts over again, telling the story from the perspective of Ayodele’s life if she had lost her virginity to one of the other men. That fills the next third of the book, and then she begins again, offering yet another scenario in the last third of the book. It’s kind of a choose-your-own-adventure book, built on Ayodele’s decision to lose her virginity when she turned eighteen.

I found it interesting that, regardless of which scenario was in play, the one constant was that Ayodele was successful in whatever work she ended up doing. Her circumstances may have changed from story to story, but she was strong and generally able to call the shots, no matter what life threw at her. Her relationship with her no-nonsense mother was a key factor throughout the book. Ayodele grew up in a female-only household, her father having deserted her mother many years earlier. He came back for a short time, but then died. In addition to Ayodele and her mother, Ayodele’s younger twin sisters also live in the home. The book is filled with strong women, and those relationships offset, or even eclipse, the relationships Ayodele has with men in each of the different scenarios.

Near the end of Reading the Ceiling, Ayodele thinks back to a story that her mother’s friend, Aunt K, used to tell her and her sisters. It’s about a mermaid who has to make a decision about where to live, but she procrastinates and the decision is taken out of her hands. She gets caught in a fisherman’s net, and then the fisherman and the mermaid both have to make choices. According to Ayodele, “The story did not always end the same way.” Likewise, the author gives the reader three different endings about Ayodele’s life following her eighteenth birthday. I found it gratifying that in each scenario, Ayodele took responsibility for her actions and never let life keep her down for very long.


A dish that’s mentioned several times in Reading the Ceiling is benachin, a word that means “one pot.” It’s a vegetable and rice dish that usually contains meat or fish, and in the book, it seemed to be a staple of family gatherings. I found a recipe for a vegetarian version on the “Around the world in 80 vegetarian recipes” blog. For the Maggi cube, I substituted a vegetable bouillon cube. This was a healthy and hearty dish. If I had it to do over again, I'd cook the vegetables and rice (separately) a little longer.


I found only one project listed for The Gambia on the website, but it sounded like a good one, helping street children in Basori Village. The plan is “to re-integrate fifty (50) street children in to homes, prevent those at risk of entering the street, provide them with health care, reliable and relevant education, and enhance their participation in community and national development.” The project is expected to go from September 2018 to August 2023. More information is available at


Wednesday, April 3, 2019



As you might expect from the title, Angèle Rawiri’s The Fury and Cries of Women deals with the adversities women face in a male-dominated society. In the case of the novel’s protagonist, Emilienne, the frustration comes from being unable to bear children for her husband Joseph, other than one daughter that was born to them early in their marriage. At least in part because of this situation, Joseph has taken a mistress, spending more nights with her than with his wife. Emilienne, then, is left with her mother-in-law who hates her and her husband’s two young nephews, who live in the house with them.

Multiple miscarriages and her husband’s infidelity have taken a toll on Emilienne. In the fictional city of Kampana, Emilienne has a very good job, making more money than her husband, and they live in an expensive house provided by her company. But none of that appears to matter in a country where women are prized for their ability to bear children. Emilienne is reminded of an observation from an article she read in a women’s magazine:

               “A woman is never completely satisfied. Whereas some enjoy professional

               success, other build a solid marriage based on love, and then there are those

               who have children to feel fulfilled. No woman, however, manages to enjoy

               all three.”

Having it all is apparently as much of a challenge for women in Gabon as it is for women in the United States.

Emilienne’s professional success is small comfort to her as she is assailed on all sides by people who blame her for what they see as her fertility problem. Even her mother seems to think that it wouldn’t be wrong for Joseph to take a mistress if Emilienne can’t give him children.

The plot takes many twists and turns, including murder, machinations against Emilienne by Joseph’s mother and his mistress, and a brief period during which Emilienne enters into a lesbian relationship. She explores different options for fertility treatments, from conventional medical consultation to hypnotism to sorcery. Her own feelings about herself run the gamut throughout the book too, as she is self-confident at some times, but self-loathing at others.

The book’s author, Angèle Rawiri, was Gabon’s first woman novelist, and she paved the way for the women writers in Gabon who came after her. The Fury and Cries of Women, which was published in 1989, was considered to be a feminist novel, with both the praise and the baggage that word evokes. A lengthy afterword by author Cheryl Toman goes into depth concerning Rawiri’s influence on women writers throughout Africa.

In the end, Emilienne is bent but not broken by the experiences she endures. She may not ever enjoy all three types of success discussed in the women’s magazine article, but she finally takes control of her own destiny.


Gabon is a former French colony, so most of the food mentioned in The Fury and Cries of Women is food we associate with France -- croissants, French cheeses, fancy meat and fish dishes. But there are also mentions of various fruits and vegetables, with bananas making an appearance in the novel more than once. So it was no surprise to find several baked banana recipes when I searched Gabonese cuisine online. The one I chose was from a website called International Cuisine, and the dish was called akwadu. It was simple to make, and easy to veganize by substituting Earth Balance for the butter and agave nectar for the honey. This dish was good served hot, but the leftovers were also good cold. I thought there was too much liquid for the number of bananas called for in the recipe, so if I were to make it again, I’d probably add in an extra banana or two.


There were no projects for Gabon on the website, so I searched the Internet to see what I could find. I discovered that the Nature Conservancy is working to preserve the health of Gabon’s rivers, which could be in jeopardy due to government efforts to create more hydropower plants. These plants may require more water than can safely be taken from the rivers, so the Nature Conservancy is working to gather accurate data about water flows.  By installing river gauge stations, the Nature Conservancy hopes to provide Gabonese authorities with the sound science they need to sustainably develop their natural resources. More information about this project is available at