For March the reading is Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.
Novels about Colonialism:
Everyone in the Reading Group enjoyed The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. It’s about Dutch colonialism (or trade at least) in the Pacific and the relationship with Japan.
My own thoughts: I especially liked the first and third parts. The second part seemed to me to be a variation on vampire stories (monks killing women and babies to gain immortal life). It was a quick, exciting read, with a dashing denoument. However, I tend to like a slightly deeper treatment of real historical and social circumstances (with plenty of thrills, of course). For many of the members, it was a bit difficult to get into as they found the opening slow.
My preference by way of historical, but still exciting, fiction about colonialism is Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. It’s a difficult read because of the rich use of many languages (Bengali, Hindi, English, French), but extremely rewarding. The book illustrates the social, gender, caste, and class boundaries encountered by Indians, British, Americans (including a mixed race American) in a way that is fascinating and provocative. It will set you thinking about the limitations that our origins impose on us; and about how many limitations and boundaries were affected by colonization by Europeans throughout the 17th-19th centuries. Plus there’s a fabulous, swashbuckling finish!
The next part of what promises to be a trilogy, centered around Britain’s Opium Wars in China, will be published this coming fall. I can’t wait!
Thanks for your review of Sea of Poppies – I hadn’t heard of it, but I’m intrigued. Colonialism doesn’t always make for the lightest reading, but there is some great postcolonial fiction out there. Can I recommend Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children? Still the best novel I have ever read – intelligent, engrossing and one of the richest accounts of the end of an Empire and the birth of a nation.