Last week I finished two books....a rare occurrence! I usually prefer to read one book at at time, but lately have had several in progress simultaneously. There is almost always an audio book for the car, too.
China Road, by Rob Gifford, is an account of his 6 week, 3000 mile journey along China's Mother Road, Route 312. Gifford, NPR's China correspondent from 1999 to 2005, traveled from Shanghai across the Gobi desert to Kazakhstan for a final farewell tour of the country. He experienced a true cross-section of present day China - from prosperity and growth in the cities, to peasant farmers hoping to feed their families for another day. Gifford, who is fluent in Mandarin, spoke with anyone he could along the way...businessmen, farmers, students, monks, a prostitute, a radio host, even an Amway salesman!
The world sees China as an emerging superpower, but Gifford contends that up close it is 'more fragile and brittle than it appears'. The book actually raises more questions than it answers. My knowledge of modern China was limited before reading this book, now I am still slightly confused. Perhaps that is the author's intention, as he also voices doubts about China's future.
One of my daughters will be traveling to China with a school group in February. She will tour Beijing and the Olympic venues, the Great Wall, Summer Palace, and even spend a day at a high school with a Chinese pen-pal. I'm sure she will bring home an interesting perspective...she is extremely insightful for a teenager.
The second book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This is an absolutely delightful epistolary novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands during WWII. It has been so thoroughly and widely reviewed that I hesitate to add more. I will note that I foresee Guernsey becoming a hot literary travel destination in the near future. Remember what Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil did for Savannah?
The book got me thinking about epistolary novels in general. This is a form I've enjoyed over the years. Helene Hanff's 84, Charring Cross Road became an instant favorite when I first read it several years ago. Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright, set in the 1930's, is a series of two women's letters and journal entries. Using two narrators, this was extremely effective as an audiobook...and remains one of my all-time favorite audiobooks. Although not really an epistolary novel, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh also came to mind. Harriet wrote everything in those spy journals. She was a childhood favorite and, at one point, I was rereading it monthly! Finally, there is the 'big one' - Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. It's 1500 pages of letters, first published in 1747, that are dated over the course of one year. I've thought of doing a 'real time' read as a year long project. Reading the letters the date they are supposed to have been written may not work for me though. I'd either get too involved and read ahead, or get caught up in other books and fall behind. I'm just not disciplined enough to stick to a reading schedule!
Which epistolary novels have you enjoyed?