More new ‘must reads’

The Perfume River: writing from Vietnam edited by Catherine Cole

This is a fabulous anthology of stories told by writers from within Vietnam, expats, and those living out of country but for whom Vietnam holds a special place in their hearts. The stories these writers tell are honest, evocative and compelling with themes such as migration, war, love, cultural displacement, and the struggle between retaining old traditions whilst embracing new ones.

I couldn’t put this book down and the stories and poems painted vivid pictures of a Vietnam reborn, the frenetic energy of a country rebuilding itself, its people and their struggles and triumphs, of love found and lost. I was touched by the lives of the characters portrayed in these stories and you will be too.

My Driver by Maggie Gee

Vanessa, a brittle, somewhat neurotic British writer, has been invited by the British Writer’s Council to attend a conference in Uganda. While in Kampala Vanessa plans a surprise visit to see Mary Tendo, her former housekeeper, (who is now the Executive Housekeeper at the Sheraton where Vanessa is staying)  but she can’t track her down. Mary meanwhile has secretly whisked Trevor, Vanessa’s ex-husband, away to her home village with plans of getting him to build the village a well. Despite war looming, Vanessa insists on travelling to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, on the border of the Congo, to see the gorillas. Along the way she offends her driver so badly that he abandons her at the forest and it’s up to Trevor to rescue her.

This book is very well written and Gee creates a strong, vivid background against which to tell her story. She skillfully navigates between the two cultures, showing the highlights and flaws of all her characters, and provides surprising insights into how the two cultures, British and Ugandan, view each other. Gee’s rich writing drives this book and you’ll feel yourself drawn into the both countryside and humorous foibles of the characters.

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