Heart of Darkness

Heart of DarknessHeart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found this to be brilliantly descriptive and at the same time completely inscrutable. I listened to it on audio and thought perhaps I had missed too much, but on reading some Cliffs Notes, no, I had gotten all the main plot points. Perhaps audio isn’t the best medium for all the subtle imagery. This is the kind of book that rewards slow reading and reflection. It remains to be seen what the ladies in my book club will make of it. Probably I should have given at least 3 stars. Like Pride and Prejudice, it could become 5 stars, given more exposure to it. That is the nature of a lot of classics, I have found, so don’t be put off by my initial reaction. I think I would have much preferred reading this in high school instead of Lord of the Flies.

Book description: River steamboat captain Charles Marlow has set forth on the Congo in Africa to find the enigmatic European trader Mr. Kurtz. Preceded by his reputation as a brilliant emissary of progress, Kurtz has now established himself as a god among the natives in “one of the darkest places on earth.” Marlow suspects something else of Kurtz: he has gone mad. A reflection on corruptive European colonialism and a journey into the nightmare psyche of one of the corrupted, Heart of Darkness is considered one of the most influential works ever written.

Circling the Sun

Circling the SunCircling the Sun by Paula McLain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This took me a long time to finish, because it kept getting interrupted by other things with time limits that I had to read. I learned a lot about Beryl Markham’s life prior to her flight across the Atlantic Ocean, but then I knew very little to begin with. Anything to do with aviation was mostly an afterthought. The epilogue felt tacked on and wasn’t necessary at all. The last chapter had such a great ending line – it really should have ended there. It’s a good story – as fiction – but the over-romanticization (is that a word?) of her writing makes me doubt that her Beryl is true to life. It does make me want to learn more, and perhaps read Beryl’s own book.

Otherwise, I found myself frustrated by shallow characters. At times Beryl seemed impossibly naïve and other times she was given a wisdom and grace that was beyond her years and experience. All of the men seemed to be out to take advantage of her, and perhaps that was true. Certainly she made some poor life choices. On the other hand, here was a woman who refused to give up, who refused to be defined by the conventions of her society. In that regard, she seemed more like the native Africans that she grew up with, and it surely had a huge impact on her personality. I am not a fan of colonialism, and while many of the English here seem dissolute and selfish, she also over-romanticizes the native culture. So enjoy this book for its poetic writing and if you like romances you’ll probably like this a lot, although the actual romance here doesn’t have a happy ending. But the romance does serve as the catalyst for Beryl’s future life as an aviator. A good story. I’m just not sure it is a “true” one.

Book description: Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa. Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships. Ultimately, it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.


The Witch Doctor’s Wife

The Witch Doctor's Wife (Amanda Brown #1)The Witch Doctor’s Wife by Tamar Myers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this even more than the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Set in the 50s during great political unrest, the Congo is still under Belgian control where oppressive overlords are busy stripping the land of its most valuable resource: diamonds. The author draws on her own experiences growing up with her missionary parents among a tribe then still known to practice headhunting. Interesting characters, lots of humor as Amanda and her newly hired housekeeper, Cripple, get to know each other and try to understand their different cultures. Lots of interesting characters, sometimes a little difficult to keep straight, but I will definitely keep reading this series.

Book description: The Congo beckons to young Amanda Brown in 1958, as she follows her missionary calling to the mysterious “dark continent” far from her South Carolina home. But her enthusiasm cannot cushion her from the shock of a very foreign culture—where competing missionaries are as plentiful as flies, and oppressive European overlords are busy stripping the land of its most valuable resource: diamonds. Little by little, Amanda is drawn into the lives of the villagers in tiny Belle Vue—and she is touched by the plight of the local witch doctor, a man known as Their Death, who has been forced to take a second job as a yardman to support his two wives. But when First Wife stumbles upon an impossibly enormous uncut gem, events are set in motion that threaten to devastate the lives of these people Amanda has come to admire and love—events that could lead to nothing less than murder.