Monday, August 20, 2018

EGYPT





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For my book from Egypt, I read Woman at Point Zero, by the acclaimed feminist writer Nawal El Saadawi. It took me much longer to get around to reading this thin volume than it should have. I knew it was based on a true story, and that it would not end well for the protagonist, so I had a hard time convincing myself to delve into its pages.

My intent in creating this project, however, was not to be entertained, but to be educated, and so I read about the life of a woman in prison, condemned to die for stabbing a pimp to death. Most of the book is written from her point of view, as told by a woman psychiatrist who visits the prison to do research on the personalities of women prisoners.

The condemned woman, Firdaus, has spent a lifetime experiencing the bad treatment of women by men. Her father beat her mother, her uncle molested her, she was married off to a much older husband who beat her, and when she left him, she was held captive by a man who raped her and passed her around to his friends. At some point, she realizes that being a prostitute will tilt the balance of power in her favor, as she can charge as much money as she wants for performing the same acts she was previously forced to do for free, and she can maintain an emotional distance from the clients who pay for her services.

As a prostitute, Firdaus has a very good life for quite some time. She lives in a nice house, eats good food, has servants to look after her, has a healthy bank balance, and has leisure time to go to the movies, read, or discuss politics with friends. She is content, and feels as though she’s in control of her own destiny. But then one of her clients makes an offhand remark about how she is not respectable, and that causes her to question her chosen profession. She decides she prefers respectability to comfort, and she gives up her luxurious life to begin working as an assistant to the chairman of a local company. She does her job well, but as a woman, she will never rise very high in the company’s power structure. She falls in love with a fellow worker, and believes he feels the same, but then she learns that he has become engaged to the chairman’s daughter.

Disillusioned, Firdaus returns to her life of prostitution, believing that “[a] successful prostitute was better than a misled saint.” She is able to reestablish herself and regain her creature comforts, but things take an ominous turn when a pimp forces himself into her life. Eventually, she reaches her breaking point and kills him, which lands her on death row. She faces her execution with no fear and no remorse.

The book’s author, Nawal El Saadawi, met Firdaus at Qanatir Prison near Cairo while conducting research about women and neurosis in Egypt. At the time, she had no way of knowing that she herself would be sentenced to spend a few months in the same prison, sent there by then-President Anwar Sadat because of her feminist activism.

Of Firdaus, Saadawi says: “Firdaus is the story of a woman driven by despair to the darkest of ends. This woman, despite her misery and despair, evoked in all those who, like me, witnessed the final moments of life, a need to challenge and to overcome those forces that deprive human beings of their right to live, to love and to real freedom.”

COOK

Either the scarcity or the abundance of food was mentioned frequently in Woman at Point Zero, but no dishes were described that were suitable for this blog. When I searched the Internet, I found a recipe for vegan kofta from a blog called “One Arab Vegan.” The recipe uses Field Roast Fieldburger patties as the base.  For some reason, I could not get the kofta mixture to stick together. I tried adding more liquid, which made the mixture too wet, and then I added more bread crumbs, which made it too dry. The first picture below shows the four kofta fingers I was somehow able to piece together. The picture below that shows what happened when I gave up and just decided to fry up the mixture into a kind of hash and serve it on a bed of rice. It was actually quite good!




GIVE


Since the mistreatment of women was pretty much the entire theme of Woman at Point Zero, I looked for a project that would help to address this problem. On the GlobalGiving website, I found a project that provides sexual abuse prevention curriculum to middle school students and teachers. According to the project description, “[t]his curriculum aims to intercept children at a young age to instill anti-abuse values, allowing them to refuse, advocate and report sexual abuse.” It is hoped that providing this training to students will cause a ripple effect in the community and raise awareness at both the local and national level. More information about this project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/anti-sexual-abuse-training-for-200-egyptian-students/.



NEXT STOP: EL SALVADOR


Sunday, July 22, 2018

ECUADOR




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Magical realism seems to be a staple of Latin American literature, so I was not surprised to find it in the book I read for Ecuador, Bruna and Her Sisters in the Sleeping City, by Alicia Yánez Cossío. The title character, Bruna, comes from an eccentric family that was once wealthy but has since squandered most of their riches. They are descended from a Spanish explorer and an indigenous woman who was forced to marry him. The family lives in a mountain village where everyone seems to be affected by a sluggishness attributed to soroche, or altitude sickness.

The book is full of stories about Bruna’s relatives, both living and long dead. We learn about the great-great-grandfather who died in a duel over who was going to sit where at a fiesta; the rich great aunt who captured the attention of all the men in the city; the great uncle whose life's work was to weave a carpet so long that the Pope would be able to walk on it all the way from Rome; the great uncle who was obsessed with frogs and built a huge frog nursery; the uncle whose matchbox collection took over the house; and the aunt whose obnoxious displays of piety made everyone else’s lives miserable as she plotted her own ascent into heaven.

Death is a major theme in this book, as someone or another is always dying in the family, which means everyone has to dress in black for months on end. This is particularly vexing for Bruna, who is young and vibrant and wants to wear colorful clothes. No sooner does the period of mourning end for one family member than someone else dies. Bruna would rather focus on living, knowing that “one lives only once and that a beautiful, full life, as deep as the limitless sea, is barely an atom in the eternity of time.”

Another theme is the conflict between the European settlers and the indigenous people, which is most poignantly expressed in the story of the family’s matriarch, whose name and religion were taken from her when she was forced to marry Bruna’s great-great-grandfather. “And she was named María from the moment they spilled water over her bowed head and washed away the idea of the sun god, chilling her heart, which had been warmed by the fire of his rays, and told her about some unknown god who seemed to get angry much more often than he should have.”

Because so much of the book is devoted to Bruna’s relatives, it took me a long time to realize that Bruna herself was undergoing an awakening that coincided with the awareness that was developing in women all over the world at the time of the book’s publication in 1971. She was beginning to question the way things had always been, with women considered to be good for nothing except to be wives and mothers. As the narrator says, “The women were giant ovaries, dressed in black.” Bruna begins to resent the unequal treatment of boys and girls, and she finally decides to take control of her own life, because, “[i]f you only lived once, it was necessary to feel fully like a human, a person, a woman.” Only by leaving the sleeping city does Bruna begin to experience the fullness of life.

COOK

No particular Ecuadorian dishes are mentioned in Bruna and Her Sisters in the Sleeping City, so I went to the International Vegetarian Union website to look for a recipe. I found one for quinoa soup with potatoes and tomatoes that sounded intriguing. It turned out okay, but the recipe calls for two cups of soy milk, which resulted in a pretty strong soy taste. If I had it to do over again, I’d either try almond milk instead, or just use vegetable broth.

The book contains numerous references to the family’s cherry tree: “a very tall, hundred-year-old cherry tree that dropped its fruit all over the orchard and onto the neighbors’ patios and whose branches sheltered hundreds of skittish and gluttonous singing birds.” And since it happens to be cherry season here right now, it seemed only fitting that I have a nice bowl of cherries for dessert after my soup.


GIVE

GlobalGiving listed many different projects in Ecuador that were in need of donations. I didn’t have to read very far, however, before finding the one I wanted to support, a library bus that will take books and other materials to children in six remote coastal villages in the Manabi province. This bus will supplement an existing program in which Domingo the donkey has been taking books to the children in a different village, following the devastation of Manabi province in an earthquake in 2016. More information about the library bus project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/library-bus-for-northern-manabi-coast-ecuador/.



NEXT STOP: EGYPT

Saturday, May 26, 2018

EAST TIMOR






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To the extent possible, I’m reading novels for this project. Merriam-Webster defines a novel as “an invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events.” In reading novels for this blog, I’m attempting to understand how people in other countries perceive the human experience from the standpoint of their cultural and geographical realities.

However, in many countries, it’s not possible to find a novel that’s been translated into English. For those countries, I just have to take whatever translated book I can get. With respect to East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste, the book that I could get was a memoir by Luís Cardoso, The Crossing: A Story of East Timor.

The Crossing covers a crucial time in East Timor’s history. This island nation, situated between Indonesia and Australia, was a Portuguese colony for four centuries, enjoyed a brief period of independence following Portugal’s Carnation Revolution in the mid-1970s, but was then invaded by Indonesia and endured more than two decades of violent occupation by that country before finally becoming a sovereign state.

Cardoso’s memoir encompasses all of these changes to the country’s political landscape. He was born in 1958, at a time when Portugal still ruled the Timorese islands. Cardoso’s father was a nurse, and the family traveled to wherever his father’s services were needed. It was very important to his father that Cardoso be properly educated, so when Cardoso was still a young boy, he was sent to live with relatives on another island to begin his formal schooling at a Catholic mission. His grandfather took it upon himself to introduce Cardoso to the spiritual tradition of his ancestors. “He wanted me to know my own nature before seeing it forever submerged in the Christian world.”

Cardoso’s education proceeded in fits and starts. At one point, his father decided he should be a priest and sent him off to the seminary, even though the head of the school said he was “too fond of life to be of any use to God.” When the seminary didn’t work out for him, he decided to become a good enough student at the next school he attended to be awarded a scholarship to study in Portugal. He did, indeed, earn a scholarship, and he left East Timor for Lisbon just ahead of the turmoil that followed the Indonesian invasion.

In Lisbon, Cardoso met fellow Timorese refugees from the war in their homeland and became part of a cultural group that shared Timorese song, dance, and poetry with the people of Portugal. As the book draws to a close, Cardoso’s parents arrived in Lisbon, and he was forced to deal with the toll the war had taken on his father.

At times I found the narrative confusing, especially when it veered into political territory and got into the upheaval occurring in both East Timor and Portugal. But for most of the book, The Crossing was a look back at the author’s childhood in what must have seemed to him a simpler, more idyllic time.

COOK

The Crossing didn’t mention any specific Timorese dishes, but there were occasional references to the produce that is grown there, such as strawberries, persimmons, mangoes, rice, maize, cassava, tea, coffee, and cacao. It wasn’t difficult to find a vegan Timorese recipe online. Batar da’an is a simple dish made of butternut squash, corn, and kidney beans. I found the recipe on the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl website, which suggests preparing healthy, meatless recipes from around the world for Lent. Somehow, making a recipe recommended for Lent by a Catholic organization seemed appropriate, considering all the time Cardoso spent in Catholic schools. This was a quick, easy, and healthy recipe, and I enjoyed it.




GIVE


GlobalGiving listed four projects for East Timor, and they all sounded worthy. In the end, I picked one that is helping to revive traditional carving, weaving, and pottery skills in poverty-stricken rural communities and turning them into income-generating opportunities. Cardoso’s recollection about his grandfather schooling him in the spiritual tradition of his ancestors made this particular project very appealing to me, as it celebrates the local heritage. According to the description on the website, “[t]his project is part of our ‘Turning Traditions into Livelihoods’ program - an initiative that gives Timorese rural communities a chance to generate income and build a livelihood using their culture, identity and experience.” More information about this project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/turn-traditions-into-livelihoods-for-150-timorese/.



NEXT STOP: ECUADOR

Monday, May 14, 2018

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC






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I had intended to read In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez, for my book about the Dominican Republic. When I looked up her biography, however, I discovered that she was born in the United States, so I’ll have to save that book for reading outside of this project. Instead, I turned to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, a book for which the author won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008.

The book follows the life of Oscar de León, who, along with his older sister Lola, is being raised by their single mother Beli in Paterson, New Jersey. Beli had fled the Dominican Republic for the United States in her teens to avoid being killed by goons hired by the wife of a man she was having an affair with. She begins a relationship with a man she meets on the plane on the way to the U.S., and from that relationship, Lola and Oscar are born. Their father isn’t in the picture for long, though, and he doesn’t make much of an appearance in the book.

For the most part, the story is told by a narrator who remains unknown until about halfway through the book, at which point he takes on a fairly prominent role. He appears to be intimately acquainted with the de León family, and from him we learn that Oscar is obese, unattractive, and obsessed with science fiction and fantasy books and movies. He is also desperate to have a girlfriend, which is unlikely to happen because he is obese, unattractive, and obsessed with science fiction and fantasy. He is bullied throughout high school and college, and the few girls he does interact with never want to be anything but friends. He attempts suicide twice, unsuccessfully, then has a life-changing experience during a trip to the Dominican Republic with his family.

While most of the book is about Oscar, there are also chapters about his sister, his mother, and his grandfather. In these chapters we learn, among other things, about the bad times in the Dominican Republic during the thirty-one-year dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. His was a particularly brutal regime, in which thousands of people were killed or imprisoned, and women were in constant fear of coming to Trujillo’s attention and being forced to have sex with him. The brutality and sexual appetite of Trujillo had brought about the downfall of Oscar’s mother’s once-prominent family, a family now thought by some to be cursed.

It took me some time to get into this book, partly because the author relies heavily on slang, in both English and Spanish, that’s not familiar to me and which I found distracting. The book is also kind of depressing, as the plot doesn’t contain many happy moments, and learning about the Trujillo dictatorship was horrifying. As I continued to read, however, I became invested in the lives of the characters and hoped the curse – or the fukú, as they called it – wasn’t real. But as the narrator says in the opening pages, “It’s perfectly fine if you don’t believe in the ‘superstitions.’ In fact, it’s better than fine – it’s perfect. Because no matter what you believe, fukú believes in you.”


COOK


The dish I chose to make for the Dominican Republic is unrelated to anything in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s a recipe for stewed red beans (habichuelas rojas guisadas) I found on the Dominican Flavor website, which, unfortunately, was suspended shortly after I made the dish. The beans were really good, though, and I don’t want you to miss out on making them, so since I can’t provide you with a link to the recipe, I’m copying it down below, to the best of my recollection:

Ingredients

1 lb. dried red beans
2 T. olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. salt

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

2 green habanero peppers, seeded and chopped

1 cup acorn squash, peeled and cubed

1 cup cilantro, chopped

2 T. tomato paste

1 tsp. oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Rinse the beans and soak them overnight in water that covers them by about three inches.

In a large pot, sauté the minced garlic in the olive oil, add the teaspoon of salt, and then add the beans and the water they soaked in. Bring them to boiling and then turn the heat down to medium high, half cover the pot with a lid, and let the beans cook for about an hour.

At the end of the hour, add all the vegetables to the pot. Mix the tomato paste with a little of the bean water and then add it to the pot, along with the oregano. Half cover the pot again with the lid, and let the beans cook for another hour.

If the beans start to dry out at any point along the way, add more water. When the beans are soft, but not mushy, taste them and add salt and pepper as needed. Serve the beans over white rice.




GIVE


Even though I didn’t read In the Time of the Butterflies for this blog post, I read about it in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It’s about the Mirabal sisters, three women who actively opposed the Trujillo regime and became martyrs to the cause when they were assassinated in 1960. They called themselves “las mariposas” – the butterflies -- which is why I chose the Mariposa Center for Girls to receive my donation for the Dominican Republic. The purpose of this project, which I found on the GlobalGiving website, is to create a center where “impoverished Haitian and Dominican girls come to engage in sports, receive academic tutoring, have access to libraries and computers, receive job and life skills training and health and wellness care.” More information about the Mariposa Center for Girls is available at http://www.mariposadrfoundation.org/mariposacenter.html.



NEXT STOP: EAST TIMOR





Sunday, April 29, 2018

DOMINICA






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This blog post is about Dominica, a small island in the Caribbean, not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, which shares a larger island in the Caribbean with the country of Haiti. Dominica was a European colony, first governed by France and then by Great Britain, from the late 1600s until 1978, when it gained its independence.

The book I read for this post, The Orchid House, was written by Phyllis Shand Allfrey, whose family had been among the earliest colonizers of Dominica. It’s a semiautobiographical novel about a British family that has lived on the island for generations. The father (The Master) in The Orchid House has returned from World War II with what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. There are three sisters who have all moved away from the island, with the middle sister, Joan, being the one who most closely resembles the author. And there is the sisters’ old nurse, a black woman named Lally, which was also the name of the author’s nurse when she was growing up.

Lally is the narrator of the book, which opens with the mother of the three sisters (Madam) visiting Lally in the one-room house where she has lived since she retired from taking care of the sisters. They share some wine and Madam tells Lally that the sisters are all coming for a visit. Two of the sisters, Stella and Joan, each have a small child who will be coming with them, and Madam asks Lally to come out of retirement to take care of the children while they’re on the island. Lally is fiercely loyal to the family, and we see both their good and bad character traits through her loving eyes.

Both Stella and Joan married men without much money, and the family’s economic situation on the island has deteriorated over the years. The only thing keeping the family afloat is the fact that the youngest of the three sisters, Natalie, married a rich man who died not too long after the wedding. The biggest crisis facing the family is the narcotic cigarettes that the Master has smoked ever since he returned from the war. The rest of the family both hates and fears the man, Mr. Lilipoulala, who sails to the island periodically to bring him his supply of these drugs.

There is also a friend from their childhood, Andrew, who complicates the sisters’ return home. He has developed a life-threatening illness, which means he rarely leaves the house. He lives with and is supported by Cornélie, who is a cousin of the sisters, being the daughter of their womanizing uncle and a black seamstress, who were never married. Each of the sisters spends time with Andrew upon their return to the island, causing a great deal of consternation for Cornélie.

One of the more interesting aspects of this book, from my point of view, is the introduction written by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, professor of Hispanic studies at Vassar College. This introduction helped provide a context for the novel itself by giving the reader a look into the life of the book’s author. Much like the character of Joan in The Orchid House, Allfrey was a social activist committed to improving the lives of people on the lower end of the economic ladder. While Joan tried to organize the jobless people on the island to fight for unemployment benefits in the novel, Allfrey founded the Dominica Labour Party and became the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs in real life.

All in all, this short novel kept me entertained and provided a unique perspective on a country about which I knew nothing before I embarked on this project.

COOK

The author didn’t spend much time talking about food in this book, so I went to the Internet to find a suitable recipe from Dominica. I found one that featured bananas, which were mentioned during a particularly fateful night in the novel’s plot. A storm was pounding the island, and Lally observed that “[m]eanwhile the wind had come up, and I thought me of how next day the banana fields would look like a battlefield of wounded soldiers.”

The recipe I made is for sunny days, not stormy ones. These frozen carob bananas turned out to be one of the best things I’ve made since I started this blog, and they will be a perfect treat to make again during the scorching Sacramento summer. I found the recipe on a website called Caribbean Choice. I couldn’t find the raw carob powder the recipe called for, but I found roasted carob powder, which worked just fine. They were super-easy to make, and I highly recommend them!




GIVE

There are no projects for Dominica currently listed on GlobalGiving’s website, but it wasn’t hard to find a worthy cause to support on the Internet. Dominica was devastated by Hurricane Maria last September and is still trying to recover. The Dominica Hurricane Relief Fund is collecting donations “to support the people of Dominica with basic materials such as temporary roofing, blankets, and non-perishable food through aid relief. Our goal is alleviating the plight Dominicans who have been left with nothing.” More information about the Dominica Hurricane Relief Fund can be found at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/dominica-hurricanerelief?ref=pageredirect.



NEXT STOP: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Monday, April 16, 2018

DJIBOUTI





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Quick – tell me everything you know about Djibouti! You may be better informed than I am, but about the only thing I knew for sure before this week’s reading was that Djibouti is in Africa. One thing I love about this project, though, is that it’s filling in so many holes in my knowledge base. Reading Abdourahman A. Waberi’s Passage of Tears taught me about this tiny country’s history and culture, as well as its strategic importance to countries in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and even to the United States, which set up a military base in Djibouti in 2001.

Djibouti, a country about the size of Vermont, is on the east coast of the African continent, bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. What surprised me, however, when looking at the map, was Djibouti’s close proximity to the Middle Eastern country of Yemen, which is a scant eighteen miles away. The two countries are separated by a strait called the Bab-el-Mandeb (“Gate of Tears”). The distance is so small that plans have been discussed to build a bridge connecting Djibouti and Yemen.

The protagonist in Passage of Tears, Djib (short for Djibril), was born and raised in Djibouti, but left behind his parents and twin brother Djamal fifteen years ago to move to Montreal, Canada. He works for an economic intelligence firm and is back in Djibouti to analyze the country for a company interested in its uranium potential. According to Djib, “My mission consists in feeling out the temperature on the ground, making sure the country is secure, the situation stable and the terrorists under control.” He feels confident in his ability to put together the necessary reports, but the longer he’s in Djibouti, the more the country seems to resurrect old memories and fears.

Woven in between the chapters narrated by Djib are the writings of a condemned inmate in a nearby prison. This inmate is the scribe for a man he refers to as his venerable Master, and they are both facing execution because of their involvement with an Islamic terrorist organization called the New Way. The inmate knows everything about Djib’s movements from the moment he arrives in Djibouti, and he is extremely critical of Djib’s life in the Western world. His writings become increasingly ominous the longer Djib remains in Djibouti.

In addition to the book’s obvious themes, such as the clashes between cultures and the difficulty in going home after a long absence, Passage of Tears invokes the work of German Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin throughout. Djib appreciates the work of Benjamin because of “his encyclopedic mind, his intuitive method and, above all, by his conception of history, which was not theoretical or arid in the least.” The condemned inmate discovers the story of Benjamin, who spent years on the run from the Nazis before finally committing suicide, in an old account left behind by a previous inmate. It takes on a special meaning for him: “What is this book if not a homage to the human spirit and its immense aura?”

Passage of Tears held my interest and taught me things I never knew. What more can one ask of a book?

COOK


There wasn’t much mention of food in Passage of Tears. In one recollection from his childhood, Djib talks of eating “a paper cone full of peanuts or hot spicy fritters.” I did an Internet search for recipes from Djibouti and found one for fritters, although not the hot spicy variety. The recipe, from InternationalCuisine.com, was for banana fritters. It seemed like they would be simple enough to make, with only a few ingredients and a minimum of preparation and cooking time required. The picture that accompanied the recipe showed something that looked like a stack of pancakes, but that’s not how my fritters turned out. Mine were kind of gooey on the inside, and if I were to make this recipe again, I’d try putting all the ingredients in the blender to make a smoother fritter. You win some, you lose some.





GIVE


GlobalGiving.com doesn’t have any projects in Djibouti, so I had to search the Internet for another option. It wasn’t easy because, even though many organizations have projects in Djibouti, they are generally operating throughout Africa and it’s not possible to designate my donation specifically for Djibouti. I finally found a GoFundMe project to raise funds for a school serving 150 homeless children in Djibouti. More information about this project can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/supporteducationforall.



NEXT STOP: DOMINICA

Friday, April 6, 2018

DENMARK





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I love thrillers and suspense novels, but somehow, I managed to miss Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow when it was an international bestseller back in the 1990s. When I was looking for a book to read from Denmark for this project, it seemed like the perfect choice.

Smilla Jasperson is a scientist who is originally from Greenland, but is living in Copenhagen. In the same apartment building lives a young boy, Isaiah, who is also from Greenland, and his alcoholic mother. Smilla’s not really into children, but since Isaiah’s mother is rarely in any condition to care for him, Smilla ends up spending more and more time with him. When she comes home one day and discovers that he has fallen off the roof and is lying dead in the snow, she doesn’t believe it was an accident. Feeling that she owes it to Isaiah, she undertakes her own investigation to figure out why he was on the roof and what caused him to fall off.

Ice and snow play a major role in the plot, and these are elements Smilla has a sixth sense about, not merely because of her scientific studies about glaciers and seawater ice, but because of her childhood experiences in Greenland with her mother, an Inuit. She also has an uncanny gift for navigation. Smilla will have to call upon all of her knowledge and skills as she seeks the truth about Isaiah’s death. At times, I found the scientific discussions to be tedious, but the plot and the characters kept me interested in spite of those technical interludes.

I was especially interested to learn about the relationship between Denmark and its former colony, Greenland. Greenlanders who live in Denmark are mostly Inuit people, and they are very different in both appearance and culture, from the Danes. Friction resulting from these differences figures into the plot of Smilla’s Sense of Snow, in large part because Smilla herself is both Inuit and Danish.

This was a very satisfying book, with both a gripping plot and a wealth of information about things I hadn’t known before, and I’d be interested in reading more works by this author.

COOK

I had hoped to make a type of Danish cookie called spekulaas for this blog post, since a woman that Smilla interviews about Isaiah’s disappearance is baking them during Smilla’s visit. I found a recipe for a vegan version, but the recipe’s creator seemed to have left out some information I needed. Instead, I found a recipe for vegan Danish butter cookies on a blog called Wallflower Kitchen, and boy, are they good! A few notes about the recipe:

1.       The measurements are in grams, so I converted them to cups: 7/8 cup vegan butter; 1 cup   
        powdered sugar plus a little bit; and 2-1/2 cups flour.

2.       The temperature in the recipe is given in degrees centigrade. For Fahrenheit, the correct  
        temperature is 350 degrees.

3.       Corn flour, in this recipe, refers to cornstarch.

4.       I didn’t have a cookie press, so I just rolled out the dough and used cookie cutters.

I am never making these cookies again because they are so good that I can’t seem to stop stuffing them in my mouth. If you decide to make them, consider yourself warned!




GIVE


GlobalGiving had only one project listed for Denmark, but it turned out to be the perfect one to go with the book I read for this post. Blue Cross Denmark offers a program that provides support to the children of alcoholics, such as little Isaiah in Smilla’s Sense of Snow. According to the project description, “[o]ne in ten Danish children is negatively affected by parental alcohol consumption, and at least 122,000 Danish children grow up in families with outright abuse.” Two community centers operated by Blue Cross Denmark provide children with the opportunity to spend their free time in a safe environment, where they can receive counseling or talk with other children who are experiencing similar situations. More information about this project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/support-for-children-of-alcoholics-in-denmark/.



NEXT STOP: DJIBOUTI