Thursday, December 31, 2015

Book 71- Cities of Salt (107th Book)

Cities of Salt was the 71st book in the Novel 100 Challenge. I picked it up from the Vancouver Public Library since it is a newer novel and not in the Public Domain (thus not easy to find for free). I was fairly certain that I wouldn't fall in love with it so I didn't want to spend money on a novel I didn't want to keep. I was right to be so thrifty, since it won't jump to the top of my ever growing list of classics i have read.

2015 was an interesting time to be reading a book about unrest in the middle east seeing how the Syrian refugee crisis has been in the forefront of everyone's mind. Although this novel is likely set in Saudi Arabia and the antagonist is the evil American's who are taking over the native land and subjugating the people, I drew a lot of parallels with the general sentiment I am hearing in the news against refugees. In the novel, a large American company takes over first the small town of  Wadi Al- Uyoun wiping it completely off the map and dislodging its citizens, making them refugees. The remainder of the novel takes place in Harran a port city several miles from Wadi Al-Uyoun where the Americans again relegate the citizens to the edges of their town outside their walled compound. The original residents were treated like second class citizens and seen as animals or dogs, only good enough to work, but not to associate with. I think this quote best describes what it must be like to have your homeland wiped off the face of the map:

"...what had happened was not just the loss of a place called Wadi Al-Uyoun, nor any loss that a man could describe or grow accustomed to."

Here is a quote that emphasizes the view that the American's took of the Arabs as second class citizens:

"The company would pay compensation for any subsequent accidents, whether loss of life, total or partial disability, loss of injury of limb or organ, eye, leg or ear, or even less serious injuries; the compensation would be generous, just as if the Arabs were regular people." 

I love that this novel challenge has exposed me to a vast variety of world fiction. It has been great to see the world from different perspectives across the world. We often hear about how unrest in the middle east affects oil prices, but we forget that it also has a human cost to it. Rather than simply making the price of gas go up, the chaos  also means that thousands of children are growing up in a time when they may killed for being an innocent bystander.  I can't imagine what it would be like to grow up in a war zone.

Despite appreciating having my horizons widened I didn't enjoy this novel all that much. The plot line wandered aimlessly not really having a main protagonist. You start the novel following Miteb Al Hathal and his family and end the novel following a series of vastly different characters. It is a great overview of the people and the times, but without a protagonist to guide me through the story, I felt lost and ambivalent as to what happened throughout the novel. It didn't help that I have recently gotten involved in a book club in my neighbourhood and have been excited about all sorts of other fiction. My to-be-read list is growing faster than I can keep up and I am desperate to start some really interesting books that I picked up in the last few weeks! I am very much looking forward to 2016's reading challenge and I hope to continue to add on new and interesting reads with my book club and other literary pursuits. I set myself a challenge to read 50 books this year and I got SOOO close. I came in at 42 although I may have missed a few of the smaller ones that I read here and there. Next year I will do better and try to get even closer to my goal, although as my husband pointed out if I met my goal it would mean I would be reading close to a book a week and (with the 1,000 page monsters this challenge keeps throwing at me) I am not sure I will keep up. It is good to have goals though and I like a challenge. What are you reading goals for 2016?