June in Books: The Waves; The Crossing; One Hundred Years of Solitude

I’ve spent a lot of time on trains this month, and a lot of time waiting in train stations. But as bad as that sounds, the upside is that it means I’ve had an awful lot of time for reading, which I’ve put to good use catching up on a couple of those overlooked classics kicking about on my to-be-read pile.

The Waves, Virginia WoolfAny time of the year is a good time of the year for reading Virginia Woolf, but with a title like The Waves this book was really crying out for the summer.

I’ve really loved getting back into some Woolfian waters at last (this is the first book of hers I’ve read since To the Lighthouse last year), and after being a little numbed by Tad Williams’ gargantuan Stone of Farewell last month it felt really good to follow up with something short and fluid. As a writer, too, it was fascinating to see yet another way of presenting a narrative, through the streaming monologues of six friends rather than conventional prose—like The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, only with added modernism. Definitely something I’ll come back to pore over again in the future.

The Crossing, Samar Yazbek
It’s become such a cliché these days to describe a book as “important” or “a must-read”, but when it comes to The Crossing—the testimonies collected by journalist Samar Yazbek during three illegal border crossings to the Syrian frontline—it really is difficult to find any other way words to use.

As you can probably imagine, The Crossing is quite a heavy-hitting book. But it wasn’t so much Yazbek’s depictions of bloodshed and atrocities (harrowing though they were) that made her account so affecting, it was the human stories she retells—that of the student intent on sitting her university exams despite losing her home to shelling, the children without schools who sell petrol to soldiers on the roadside, and the building contractor who now repairs salvaged tanks for the rebels. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about Syria than the names and cities in the news, you could do worse than start at The Crossing.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
This is a book that’s been on my reading list for some time now, having been recommended to me first by several friends, and then again by its frequent mentions alongside Evelio Rosero’s The Armies, my Colombian Booktrotting read and one of my favourite novels.

At first, I really struggled to get into One Hundred Years of Solitude, and I suspect that’s because those constant comparisons with The Armies proved to be spectacularly wide of the mark—besides their respective authors both being Colombian, there really is little stylistic similarity between Rosero’s desolate stream of grief and war, and Márquez’ multi-generational tale of the trials and triumphs of the Buendía family.

But once I got going, I found it really hard to put this book down. Sometimes Márquez’ magical realism and heavy use of symbols made Solitude a little too velvety to swallow all at once, but overall his lucid style became something I enjoyed coming back to the more I read. Much like The Waves, this wasn’t necessarily the gentlest of novels on the mind, though I’m sure I’ll be returning for another read one day.


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