Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Booktrekker is on vacation

Between holiday celebrations and traveling, I'm going to have to take a break from blogging. Check back again after January 12th. There may be occasional updates on The Booktrekker's Facebook page as well.

https://m.facebook.com/TheBooktrekker/

Happy holidays and good reading to you all!

Monday, December 12, 2016

AZERBAIJAN






READ


Ali and Nino was written by Kurban Said eighty years ago, but the conflicts it portrays between East and West, between Islam and Christianity, are as relevant today as they were then. The book is set in Azerbaijan, which is situated between Europe and Asia, along with Georgia and Armenia.


The story follows the fates of Ali Khan Shirvanshir, a young man from a proud and venerated Muslim family, and Nino Kipiani, a young woman whose Georgian Christian family is no less proud and esteemed. The two are in love, which scandalizes no one in the town of Baku, where Muslims and Christians mingle openly. Still, their love is a constant balancing act for them, not only because of expectations from their families, but because of the political turmoil of the time.


For example, Ali’s devout friend Seyd has no problem with the idea of Ali marrying a Christian woman, since it is Seyd’s belief that a woman has neither soul nor intelligence. In his mind, Nino’s religion is irrelevant, although he is adamant that the sons of the marriage must be raised as Muslims. Nino is equally concerned when she thinks about how Muslim Persians laid waste to her country of Georgia in times past, and how her children as Muslims may participate in similar destruction in the future.


For his part, Ali worries about Nino’s yearnings for Europe, since he is a son of the sand and the desert and would be miserable in Paris or London or any of the other European capitals that Nino is drawn to. Nino agrees to continue living in Azerbaijan for Ali’s sake, but she lets him know that their child will not be a son of the desert. Ali acquiesces, and at that point he “knew that I had agreed to be the father of a European.”


Ali and Nino overcome many challenges in their relationship because of their love for each other. Azerbaijan, however, is a victim of its own geographical desirability. As the story begins, Azerbaijan is under the control of the Czar’s Russia. Later, the Turks, the British, and post-Czarist Russians all have designs on the region. In the end, it is the political upheaval, rather than their feelings for one another, that determines the fate of Ali and Nino’s relationship.



COOK

While there was plenty of eating and drinking in Ali and Nino, I didn't find anything I thought was representative of the country and also easily veganizable. So I decided to look for something online, and found several references to pomegranate salad in the cuisine of Azerbaijan. Since it's pomegranate season, that seemed to be the perfect choice.

It took awhile for my taste buds to adjust to the combination of main ingredients in the recipe -- pomegranate seeds and boiled potatoes -- but I liked it once I got used to it. The recipe called for either dill or cilantro, which have such different flavors. I opted for cilantro, but if I had it to do over again, I'd probably choose the dill. I used vegan mayonnaise in place of the non-vegan variety.




The recipe I used is from a blog called "AZ Cookbook," featuring recipes from Azerbaijan and Turkey.

GIVE

In searching for an organization to give my Azerbaijan donation to, I found a British crowdfunding site called JustGiving, which had a fundraising page for a group called United Aid for Azerbaijan. This organization "implements strategies to help children in need of special protection, those who have been abandoned by their families because of poverty, social problems and disability." More information about United Aid for Azerbaijan is available at http://uafa.az/en/about-us/.



NEXT STOP: THE BAHAMAS

Sunday, December 4, 2016

AUSTRIA






READ



So far, most of the books I've read for this project have been by male authors, so I've been actively seeking out books written by women. When I found Brigitte Schwaiger's Why Is There Salt in the Sea? in the European Women Writers Series, I knew it was going to be my book for Austria.

In the book's afterword, translator Sieglinde Lug says the author viewed this book as an "inner monologue," rather than a novel. That's a perfect description, as the book follows the thoughts of the narrator in her attempts to come to terms with her existence in what is very much a man's world. Tellingly, we never find out her name, although we know the names of the men in her life.

As the daughter of a doctor, the narrator is encouraged to go into medicine too. But she doesn't like the field, and nothing else she thinks of doing seems good enough to her father. She ends up getting married instead, and regretting her decision even before the wedding takes place.

In spite of her desire to "be able to talk to someone without being set straight," her husband Rolf is not that person. On the contrary, Rolf is the kind of person who says things like, "A woman without a man, what kind of thing is that?" Or, "I find it touching to see how you sit there and look as if you are thinking about something important."

The narrator looks for solace in a lover, but he doesn't give her the fulfillment she seeks either. Her struggle to find her way continues through the end of the book, and the reader is left to ponder whether the narrator will ever feel like a complete person in the patriarchal society in which she was raised.


COOK


The narrator of Why Is There Salt in the Sea? is not much of a cook. At one point in the book, she is perusing her cookbook. "Do put that book down, Rolf says, you don't learn cooking from books, you learn it from experience." The narrator observes that, "Flaky puff pastry is his favorite dish."

I'm not much of a cook, either, and the thought of trying to make a flaky vegan puff pastry was pretty daunting. A recipe for an easy three-ingredient vegan apple strudel on a blog called Elephantastic Vegan saved me. I used vegan fillo dough from my local natural foods store and added in some chopped walnuts, since I think everything is better with nuts. The resulting strudel was a little dry, but the filling was tasty. I suspect the recipe would be even better with melted vegan butter brushed onto the fillo dough sheets.



GIVE

My donation for Austria has been sent to an organization called kinderhaende, which provides instruction in Austrian sign language to deaf children and their families. They are currently raising money for five classes in which children in Vienna, ages six months to seven years, and their families can learn sign language, get an affirmative perspective on deafness, and develop a positive image of people who sign. More information about this project is available at GlobalGiving.com.


NEXT STOP: AZERBAIJAN






Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Booktrekker Is on the Road

I'm currently traveling, which means I have lots of time to read, but no facilities for cooking. Blog posts will resume after November 28th.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

AUSTRALIA






READ



The book I selected for my Australia blog post, Cloudstreet, is apparently much beloved among Australian readers. In fact, when the Australian Book Review asked readers to nominate their favorite Australian novels in 2009, Cloudstreet not only won, it crushed the competition:

"Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, a perennial favourite since its publication in 1991, was the overwhelming favourite – by a margin of three to one to its nearest rival, Henry Handel Richardson’s The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, which was closely followed by Patrick White’s Voss and Winton’s most recent novel, Breath."

This saga follows the fortunes and misfortunes of two families who, due to life-altering circumstances, leave their respective homes in rural Australia. Chance brings them together in Perth, where they share the same house on Cloud Street for the next twenty years. The Pickles family, which owns the house, is headed by a gambling father and an alcoholic mother. Their daughter Rose is studious and withdrawn, resentful of her family's circumstances. She has two brothers who also live in the house, but she has little to do with them.

The Lamb family, which rents half the house, is as industrious as the Pickles are indolent. The driving force in the Lamb household is Oriel, the mother, who decides to open a small market in the house. It becomes a vital part of the neighborhood, where it is soon known simply as Cloudstreet. Oriel's husband Lester does the baking and makes the ice cream, and five of the six Lamb children -- three boys and three girls -- have their own duties as well. The sixth child has no role in the running of the store, having suffered severe brain damage in a childhood accident.

Family relationships are at the heart of this novel, especially the problems in those relationships. Resentments between husbands and wives and between children and their parents drive the characters' actions and reactions. These family dramas shine a light on the challenges of working-class Australians in the mid-20th century.

The author uses some interesting literary devices in the telling of this story. The narrator shifts throughout the book, and there were times when I had trouble figuring out exactly who the narrator was. Was it the pig? The river? There is also a mysterious black man, possibly imaginary, who would appear suddenly to one or another of the male characters, and it wasn't always apparent to me what purpose he served. Still, those small distractions didn't take away from the overall narrative.

In the end, loyalty and forgiveness are the saving grace of the characters in Cloudstreet, as they finally learn to understand and appreciate one another.


COOK

Most of the food the characters eat in Cloudstreet is decidedly not vegan, although I appreciate that the Lamb family decided to let their pig live, rather than turning him into bacon and ham. One item caught my eye, however. It was something Oriel was making when her son told her he was leaving home:

"It was at the Anzac Club one night that Quick came into the kitchen and told her he was leaving.

"Go over to the sink and wash your mouth out with soap, Mason Lamb, she said, not pausing from kneading the oatmeal mixture for her next batch of Anzacs."

The term Anzac is an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, which came into being during World War I. According to Wikipedia, Anzacs were sweet, hard tack cookies that women sent to "soldiers abroad because the ingredients do not spoil easily and the biscuits kept well during naval transportation." The ingredients included rolled oats, flour, sugar, butter, golden syrup, baking soda, boiling water, and desiccated coconut.

Hard tack biscuits didn't sound very appealing, but I looked online to see what I could find. As luck would have it, PETA Australia had a vegan recipe. I wasn't able to find golden syrup and desiccated coconut, so I used blue agave nectar and flaked coconut instead. For the margarine measurement, 125 grams is a little more than half a cup. And for the oven temperature, 180 degrees centigrade works out to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

The cookies were delicious and very easy to make. They are chock-full of sugar and fat, though, so be forewarned!




GIVE


Since I have PETA Australia to thank for this week's recipe, I decided to give them this week's donation. They work to end animal cruelty in a number of ways, including campaigns to stop Melbourne restaurants from selling foie gras, end the practice of dissection in Australia universities, and persuade Australian fashion designers to stop using fur.



NEXT STOP: AUSTRIA










Saturday, November 5, 2016

ARMENIA






READ


It was harder to find a novel by an Armenian author than I expected. When I googled "Armenian novelists," tons of authors popped up. The problem was that practically none of them had actually been born in Armenia -- most of them seemed to be Americans of Armenian descent. The novels by Armenian-born authors often hadn't been translated into English. So I was relieved to finally discover Yenok's Eye, by Gurgen Khanjyan, who was born in Yerevan, Armenia.

Yenok's Eye follows a short period of time in the lives of two half-brothers, Gor and Grofo, unknown to one another until their father goes missing. Their father, Jivan, is a wandering musician with a wandering eye. He hasn't been heard from by either Grofo's mother or Gor's, and his current mistress in Russia has filed a missing person's report. Grofo, living in the neighboring country of Georgia, learns of Gor's existence in Armenia and travels there to meet him and his family.

Gor's family accepts Grofo into their home, in spite of the fact that Grofo turns out to be an unrepentant troublemaker. As he says towards the end of the book, "I'm a creator of problems, not a solver, that much is true."

The heart of the family is Yenok, Gor's maternal grandfather. Having lost his eye in a childhood accident, he has a glass eye to replace it. Grofo asks him to leave him the glass eye when he dies, which Yenok agrees to do, and he also gives Grofo a spare glass eye that's the wrong color. Grofo carries the spare eye with him everywhere and brings it out at various times throughout the book.

Yenok's Eye is driven more by its characters, especially the irrepressible Grofo, than its plot. In his short time with his half-brother's family, he manages to change not only their perceptions of themselves, but their relationships with each other.

COOK

Copious amounts of vodka are consumed by the characters throughout the book, especially the men. Fortunately, there's a fair amount of cooking and eating going on as well. In one scene, Gor's mother is in the kitchen cooking, kept company by a young neighbor who is secretly in love with Gor.

"On one occasion, Mrs. Arus was busy stirring a pot of yoghurt soup spas and asked Nare to take a cup of coffee to Gor. 'Why don't I stir instead?' Nare muttered, but the housewife did not trust her. 'The bottom will stick to the pot,' she said."

I'd never heard of yogurt soup, so I decided to give it a try. I used a recipe from a website called "The Armenian Kitchen." The recipe required several changes to make it vegan, but they were easy changes: I used vegan yogurt instead of regular yogurt, vegetable broth in place of chicken broth, olive oil instead of butter, and I omitted the egg. It wasn't bad, but I suspect yogurt soup is an acquired taste.


GIVE

In searching for an Armenian organization to receive this week's donation, I found a website called GlobalGiving.com, which is a crowdfunding platform for nonprofits all over the world. This site listed nine different projects in Armenia, which made choosing very difficult! I finally decided to send my donation to support a project that provides basic education to working children. I was happy to discover the GlobalGiving website, and will certainly return to it again and again as I continue with my global reading project.


NEXT STOP: AUSTRALIA


Saturday, October 29, 2016

ARGENTINA






READ






In trying to decide what to read for my blog post on Argentina, how could I not choose a book called The Tango Singer? Many people are aware of the iconic dance, but outside of Argentina, less may be known about the singers whose music helped provide the atmosphere for the tango’s fiery passion.


This novel, by Tomás Eloy Martínez, follows the journey of New York University graduate student Bruno Cadogan as he struggles with his dissertation about Jorge Luis Borges’ essays on the tango’s origins. A chance meeting with an acquaintance convinces Bruno to travel to Buenos Aires to hear a tango singer named Julio Martel, who is rumored to be better than even the legendary Carlos Gardel.


Thus begins Bruno’s frustrating search for Martel, who doesn’t make regular appearances, but rather sings in inexplicable venues at random times. Bruno seems to always just miss Martel’s latest performance, and his pursuit becomes ever more frantic as he learns of Martel’s failing health.


Bruno develops another obsession shortly after his arrival in Buenos Aires – an overwhelming desire to see the aleph Jorge Luis Borges wrote about in his short story, “The Aleph.” Bruno may or may not be staying in the same boarding house in which the story was set, and one of his neighbors may or may not have a vantage point from which to see the aleph.


At this point, I felt the need to take a break from TheTango Singer in order to read “The Aleph.” Borges describes the aleph as “the only place on earth where all places are -- seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending.” When the story’s narrator finally sees the aleph, here is how he describes the experience: “I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; I saw a tattered labyrinth (it was London).”


This idea of a labyrinth is a recurring theme in The Tango Singer, which may account for the book’s labyrinthian structure. Interspersed between descriptions of Bruno’s search for Martel and his plots to see the aleph are tales of political intrigue and horror from Argentina’s past, both distant and recent. Perhaps these are the spaces Bruno's neighbor references when he says that "the shape of a labyrinth is not in the lines that form it but in the spaces between those lines."


Entering the labyrinth of this book, I was never quite certain where the story was taking me or how it was going to get me there. What is certain, however, is that I savored every step in this mystical journey.


COOK

For purposes of this blog, I try to make foods that are mentioned in the books I'm reading. That was not an option with The Tango Singer, as very few foods were even discussed. After reading this passage, in which Bruno talks about a movie he'd seen, it became even more clear that I'd have to look for vegan Argentinian recipe ideas somewhere other than this book:


"A week later, in a series at the Malba, I discovered a short from 1961 called Faena (Slaughter), which showed cattle being knocked out with hammers and then skinned alive in the slaughterhouse. I then understood the true meaning of the word barbarous and for a whole week could think of nothing else. In New York, an experience like that would have turned me into a vegetarian. In Buenos Aires it was impossible, because there was nothing to eat but beef."


On that cheery note, I decided to try my hand at making vegan empanadas, using meatless crumbles instead of ground beef. I found the recipe at greenstraightup.com. The instructions for the dough mention baking powder, although that's not one of the listed ingredients. I made my dough without it and it turned out fine. I used the first filling recipe, and it was really good. Next time, I think I'll try to make dessert empanadas.




GIVE


At one point in The Tango Singermany of Bruno's neighbors are forced to move to Fuerte Apache, a settlement just outside of Buenos Aires that had been created to house the poor. Bruno's landlady's response is, "I wouldn't go for love nor money. I don't know how they can take those poor children there."


In searching for an organization for this week's blog post, I found that Habitat for Humanity is helping develop stable communities for low-income residents living on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. To help people like Bruno's neighbors, my donation this week is going to Habitat for Humanity Argentina.



NEXT STOP: ARMENIA

Sunday, October 23, 2016

ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA





READ


When I read the description of Loving This Man, by Althea Prince, on the book's back cover, I thought it might turn out to be a romance novel. The main characters were women from an Antiguan family, and the plot seemed to revolve around their relationships with men, whether loving or exploitive.

But the book turned out to be so much more than a romance. The first half focuses on the lives of three sisters, Reevah, Sage, and Juniper Berry, living on the Caribbean island of Antigua during the 1950's and 1960's. This isn't the tourist's Antigua, where we in the U.S. go to get away from it all -- this is the Antigua where people live and work and raise their children. The characters in Loving This Man face a variety of obstacles, such as government corruption, domestic violence, disparate treatment based on skin color, and barriers that keep them from reaching their full potential. They persevere, however, in large part by drawing upon the love and strength of their family. 


In the second half of the book, Reevah's daughter Saychelle leaves Antigua to live with her great-aunt in Toronto, Canada. There, she becomes involved in the Black Power movement, while also becoming aware of the special challenges facing women, particularly black women. As she discovers, "It was impossible not to notice that Black women were second-class citizens twice: in the white world and in the Black world."


She also experiences the alienation that comes from living away from one's own country:  "My life had other defining moments, but none could compare to the hollow in my heart that had been made by immigration."


Loving This Man is a celebration of strong women. The characters make mistakes, certainly, but they learn from them and move forward with resolve and renewed purpose. I found myself cheering them on every step of the way.


COOK

It was clear to me as I read the book that what I ought to cook for this blog post was pepperpot and foongie. Reevah made this dish for her family every Saturday, and after Saychelle moved to Toronto, she and her great-aunt followed the same ritual. But pepperpot and foongie turned out to involve more cooking than I was prepared to do, so I decided to make "season-rice" instead, a dish that Sage made for dinner following a funeral: "She had cooked a big-big pot of Seleena's favourite food, season-rice, and had invited several friends to drop by her house." 


I used a recipe I found on a website called "The Integrationist." To veganize the recipe, I left out all the meat and added a can of black beans (drained) instead. I also substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin. It turned out pretty well!


If you're a more ambitious cook than I am and would like to try your hand at making pepperpot and foongie, I found this recipe on "The Caribbean Current." The recipe suggests that vegetarians omit the meat. If you decide to make it, let me know how it is!




GIVE


My donation for Antigua and Barbuda is going to the Kiwanis Club of Wadadli Young Professionals, which has undertaken several projects to help children and young people. Some of their recent projects involved providing household items and toiletries to the Sunshine Home for Girls, and raising funds for the Kiwanis campaign to eliminate Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus. More information about the Kiwanis Club of Wadadli Young Professionals is available on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/wadadlikiwanis/posts/.



NEXT STOP:  ARGENTINA


Sunday, October 16, 2016

ANGOLA





READ



My Father's Wives, by José Eduardo Agualusa, follows the journey of Laurentina who, having been raised in Portugal by two loving parents, suddenly discovers at her mother's deathbed that the people who raised her are not her birth parents after all. Instead, she is the youngest daughter of an Angolan musician named Faustino Manso and the fifteen-year-old daughter of an Indian trader. Laurentina learns that Manso has seven wives and eighteen children in various African countries. Faustino Manso, as various characters in the book agree, "was a man who liked women." 


As fate would have it, Faustino dies just as Laurentina discovers his existence. Since she can't meet him, Laurentina sets out to meet his wives and other children in order to make a documentary film about the experience. As you might expect, along the way many truths and many lies are uncovered.  In the words of Dário, the man Laurentina believed was her father, "How many truths make up a lie?"


Running parallel to Laurentina's tale is a nonfiction story about the author's travels as he develops the book's characters and constructs the plot. Agualusa writes about his experience, for example, seeing two Mucubal women: "The taller of the women cannot have been more than sixteen years old, a narrow waist, coloured bracelets around her fine golden wrists...". Later, in a fictional portion of the book, Laurentina sees two Mucubal women: "The taller of the women cannot have been more than fifteen years old, a narrow waist, a waist I wish I could have again, coloured bracelets around her fine golden wrists." It's an interesting look into the author's creative process.


I loved the beauty of Agualusa's prose, which means that his translator, Daniel Hahn, also deserves a great deal of credit. I was occasionally confused, however, at the changes in narrator, which sometimes occurred more than once within a chapter. Overall, though, I thought this was a lovely book and I'm happy to have found it.


COOK

My Father's Wives didn't give me too many ideas for an Angolan dish to cook this week.  At one point, the author eats a plate of bean stew, but the bean stew recipes I found generally involved chicken and sausage. Instead, I decided to make an Angolan vegetable soup from a recipe on the "Culinary Adventures with Camilla" website. This website points out that Angola was formerly a Portuguese colony, and this dish combines the flavors of both countries. I skipped the fennel, but added some cabbage I had left over from last weekend's Andorran trinxat. With pearl couscous, sweet potatoes, other vegetables, and an array of spices, this soup was the perfect choice for the rainy weekend!




GIVE


The people of Angola suffered the effects of war and political conflicts for much of the latter half of the twentieth century, both in their fight for independence from Portugal and in the civil war that followed. One by-product of these wars is that millions of land mines remain buried in Angola, posing a serious threat to the people there. To assist in the removal of these deadly weapons, my donation this week has gone to MAG America to support their work in Angola.


NEXT STOP:  ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA






Sunday, October 9, 2016

ANDORRA






READ





One problem with trying to read a book from every country in the world is that not every country has authors whose works have been translated into English. When I started this project, my hope was that each book I read would (a) be written by an author who was born in the country in question, and (b) be set, at least for part of the book, in that country.


Unfortunately, that's not the case for Andorra. The author of the book I read is indeed from Andorra, but his book is set in ancient Egypt. There don't appear to have been any novels translated into English that were set in Andorra and written by an author from Andorra. So I read the same book that Ann Morgan read for her blog, "A Year of Reading the World": The Teacher of Cheops, by Albert Salvadó.


The book centers around the character Sedum, who was born a slave, but through hard work, intelligence, and plain old luck, manages to become a free man and a valuable employee to the Egyptian pharaoh Snefru, who ruled between 2613 and 2589 B.C. Snefru was responsible for building the first pyramid with straight edges, rather than the step pyramids that were common at the time. Sedum serves for a time as teacher to Snefru's sons, Kannefer and Cheops. A catastrophe in the building of a pyramid, however, leads to a shake-up among Snefru's inner circle, and Sedum is called upon to assume a more demanding role in the pharaoh's kingdom.


This is a cautionary tale about the pitfalls one faces in a treacherous world. Sedum was smart, honest, and industrious, and even so, he always had to look over his shoulder to see what danger might be threatening.


The book's author, Albert Salvadó, is popular in Andorra for his historical novels, and The Teacher of Cheops won the Nestor Lujan Prize in 1998. I'm hoping that someday he'll write a historical novel about Andorra that will be translated into English.

COOK

I made an Andorran recipe, even though The Teacher of Cheops wasn't about Andorra. Trinxat is a fried potato and cabbage pancake that's popular in the Pyrenees. I used a recipe I found on a blog called "The Mediterranean Vegan." Since most trinxat recipes call for bacon, I chopped up a couple of slices of vegan bacon and added them to the minced garlic that was being sautéed in olive oil. This was really tasty, but it didn't fry up into cakes very well, so if I were to cook it again, I'd just fry it as a kind of hash.





GIVE

This article is being posted a little later than usual this weekend because, although I have been frantically searching the Internet, I have been unable to find a nonprofit organization in Andorra to which I can send a donation. The few organizations that looked promising have websites written in Catalan, making it impossible for me to understand what they do or how to donate. I'll continue to look for a way to contribute to Andorra, and if I find anything, I'll post an update here. In the meantime...



NEXT STOP: ANGOLA











Saturday, October 1, 2016

ALGERIA




READ


I was predisposed to like Anouar Benmalek's novel, The Lovers of  Algeria, as soon as I opened the book and saw that he'd dedicated it to, among others, his grandmother, who was born in the Vaud canton in Switzerland.  My grandmother was also born in the Vaud canton of Switzerland, although the similarities between the lives of Benmalek's grandmother and mine end there. As it turns out, one of the main characters in the novel is also a woman from Switzerland, Anna, who is torn from her Algerian husband, Nassreddine, and their children during Algeria's fight for independence from France. Anna returns to her native Switzerland, marries and has a son, then goes back to Algeria as a widow many years later.


When I was an English major in college, I learned that a popular theme in literature is man's inhumanity to man, and that is certainly the case in this novel. As is true in many parts of the world, most of the characters in The Lovers of Algeria are just regular people who want to go about the normal business of their daily lives. This is nearly impossible, though, since they are always caught between warring political factions. 


During the early part of Anna and Nassreddine's relationship, they were caught between the French colonizers and those who were fighting for independence from France. Later, the fight was between the Algerian government and the jihadists. Squeezed between opposing forces who are either demanding their loyalty or accusing them of being spies for the other side, all of the choices available to Anna and Nassreddine are fraught with peril. As Nassreddine comments at one point, "I've been against violence all my life, Anna. To live, that was all I asked... And it was probably too much to ask... We dreamed the wrong dreams, we took the wrong turnings. But were we entirely to blame?"


No, they were not entirely to blame, and I found myself rooting for them throughout the book. Life was never easy for them, but things were always better whenever they were together.

COOK

There were a few dishes mentioned in The Lovers of Algeria that I might have cooked for this blog, but after reading this passage, I chose calentita.


"At this moment, soaked to the skin, Nassreddine dreams of having a big slice of calentita. His mouth waters at the thought of the floury chick-pea flan with its somewhat sickly warmth."


Since flan is usually made of mostly eggs and milk, I wasn't sure I'd be able to find a vegan recipe.  I was in luck, though -- a blog called "The Teal Tadjine" provided me with all the information I needed. I used almond milk in place of regular milk, and a combination of flaxmeal and water in place of the egg.


Calentita can be served just as it is, although I liked it better spread on a slice of bread.  Also, I added extra olives slices before I ate it.




GIVE

I had a harder time finding a nonprofit organization providing services in Algeria than I thought I would. I finally found Handicap International, which has projects “to enhance and broaden the access of children with disabilities to the education system in Algeria,” to facilitate “the collaboration of health professionals and people from Algerian organizations on the case-management of people with neuromuscular diseases,” and to assist in “delivering care for children with learning difficulties and mental health problems.” More information about Handicap International’s work in Algeria can be found at http://www.handicap-international.us/algeria.



NEXT STOP: ANDORRA

        




Saturday, September 24, 2016

ALBANIA



READ



I wasn't too far along in Ismail Kadare's bleak Broken April before I felt the need to stop reading and do a little Internet research to find out whether the book was allegorical or whether the situation facing one of the main characters was rooted in reality. The plot turned out to be based on very real practices mandated by the Kanun, a code of traditional Albanian laws. Thus forewarned, I settled in to read Kadare's dark novel about the Kanun's decrees concerning blood feuds in the High Plateau region of Albania.


The beginning of the story follows the unfortunate Gjorg Berisha, who, to avenge his brother's murder, must kill the murderer. Zef Kryeqyqe, the man who killed his brother, had done so to avenge the murder by Gjorg's brother of a man in Zef's family, who had been killed for having murdered someone in Gjorg's family. This had been the pattern for the past seventy years, leading to 22 deaths in the Berisha family and 22 deaths in the Kryeqyqe family. Having killed Zef, Gjorg knows that his remaining time on earth is very limited. The logical conclusion to this blood feud is likely to eventually be the extinction of both families. 


The book also follows a young couple, Bessian and Diana, who have come from the Albanian capital of Tirana to visit the High Plateau for their honeymoon. Bessian, a writer, is particularly fascinated by the tradition of blood feuds in the region, viewing the practice as Homeric and even majestic. As he tells Diana with a smile, "We are entering the shadow-land, the place where the laws of death prevail over the laws of life." Diana, on the other hand, "felt as if something were collapsing inside her." Their travels in the High Plateau affect them in ways they could not have predicted, especially after their path crosses Gjorg's for a brief moment.


As you might have surmised, this was not an uplifting book, but it was fascinating to read about a practice that is apparently still followed in some parts of Albania. As Kadare explains through the thoughts of one of his characters, "Successive generations had been accustomed to the feuds from their cradles, and so, not being able to conceive of life without them, it never entered their minds to try to free themselves from their destined end." Here's hoping that the practice fades away and that the young men of the High Plateau may someday travel the roads freely without watching over their shoulders for death's approach.


COOK

There wasn't much feasting in Broken AprilPeople were poor from having to pay the blood tax when it was their turn to kill (since, of course, someone profits from all of this death), or saving up in anticipation of the day when it would be their turn to kill and have to pay the blood tax. Bessian and Diana, who appeared to have plenty of money, ordered fried eggs, cheese, and yogurt for their meals, but those items were beyond the means of Gjorg as he traveled to Orosh to pay his blood tax.  When he stopped at an inn along the way, the innkeeper asked him if he'd like to have something, and Gjorg replied, "A plate of beans. How much will it be? I've got my own bread."  So for my Albanian meal, I made beans and bread from recipes I found on an Albanian food blog. The only ingredient I had to change in order to make the beans vegan was to substitute Earth Balance spread for the butter the recipe called for.




GIVE

In researching Albanian organizations, I came across one recommended by Anne F. Cunningham, whose husband was the U.S. Ambassador to Albania from 2010 to 2014. The Organization for the Support of Albania's Abandoned Babies (OSAAB) provides a safe haven so that mothers who want to give up their unwanted babies know that the babies will receive proper medical attention and loving care until such time as they can be moved to an orphanage to await adoption. More information about this organization is available on their website at http://osaab.org/home.html.

NEXT STOP: ALGERIA





Sunday, September 18, 2016

AFGHANISTAN






READ




An unintended benefit of this global reading project is that it gave me the nudge I needed to read a book I should have read long before now. I'm probably the only person on the planet who had never read anything by Khaled Hosseini, and after finishing A Thousand Splendid Suns, I know my world view was poorer for the omission. I had avoided Hosseini's books because I was afraid they would be crushingly sad, and this book certainly had those moments. But it also painted a very rich picture of life in Afghanistan, with a special focus on the lives of women.


Mariam and Laila come from different cities and different backgrounds, but their lives intersect in ways both tragic and tender. While both women enjoy relatively happy interludes at different points in their lives, changes in both their personal circumstances and the political climate of their country serve to underscore an admonition Mariam received as a young girl from her mother, Nana:  "There is only one, only one skill a woman like you and me needs in life, and they don't teach it in school... Only one skill. And it's this: tahamul. Endure."


There is much for both Mariam and Laila to endure in an Afghanistan undergoing constant political turmoil. As a taxi driver remarked during Laila's day trip with her father and her friend to see the Bamiyan Buddhas, "And that, my young friends, is the story of our country, one invader after another... Macedonians. Sassanians. Arabs. Mongols. Now the Soviets. But we're like those walls up there. Battered, and nothing pretty to look at, but still standing." I found that moment to be particularly poignant, knowing the Taliban would take power after the Soviet era and blow up the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas that had inspired Laila with awe that day.


Hosseini is a spellbinding storyteller, and he tempers agony with a sense of hopefulness.  Reading A Thousand Splendid Suns was a remarkable way to begin my literary trip around the world.


COOK




The food of Afghanistan offers many wonderful options for vegans, although the dish I decided to make is one that's often made with meat. I chose it because it represented a joyful day in Laila's life, a day when her mother was in uncharacteristically good spirits and decided to throw a party for the neighbors:  "With unsettling energy, Mammy set about cooking: aush soup with kidney beans and dried dill...".


I found a recipe for a vegetarian aush soup on the Washington Post's website. It's a spicy garbanzo bean, vegetable, and noodle soup, perfect to welcome the start of autumn. The only change needed to make the soup vegan was to use non-dairy yogurt in place of the whole-milk yogurt the recipe calls for. Here is the link to the recipe: https://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/recipes/aush-vegetable-soup/14366/.


GIVE



It was easy to decide which nonprofit organization should receive my donation for Afghanistan.  Khaled Hosseini, the author of A Thousand Splendid Suns, has created his own foundation to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. According to the website of the Khaled Hosseini Foundation, the "Foundation works with the United Nations refugee organization (UNHCR) to build shelters for refugee families. It also provides economic opportunities, education, and healthcare for women and children of Afghanistan." I hope my donation will help other women like Mariam and Laila.


NEXT STOP: ALBANIA