Daily Archives: May 30, 2009

The Scent of Oranges – Book Review

scentoforanges Even if I had the key to Pa’s request, I had no idea how to tackle a murder investigation. All I could do was to remain vigilant – an early morning sparrow, picking up tidbits of information, hungrily following any leads that presented themselves. – from The Scent of Oranges, page 81 –

When a young woman named Linda returns to South Africa for the funeral of her father, she is drawn back in time to her childhood growing up on their farm amid the orange groves. Although it was she who discovered her murdered brother’s body, she has no recollection of the crime. But when she is given a letter from her father asking her to re-investigate the details of the murder, Linda finds herself once again embroiled in the mystery of her brother’s death which includes dark, family secrets.

Joan Zawatzky’s novel The Scent of Oranges is part mystery, part historical fiction. Zawatzky paints an unflattering picture of post-apartheid South Africa – a country of poverty, violence and inadequate medical care where TB and AIDS take their toll. Despite this bleak portrayal, Zawatzky also reveals the beauty of the countryside where belief in ancestral spirits are interwoven with ghosts of the past.

Rain had brought flowers, leafy tendrils and a mass of weeds to the brittle veld. I picked wet jacaranda blossoms, popping them as I once had and sniffing their faint perfume on my fingers Blue borage was flowering and I followed its trails as it crept along hedges, over trunks and boulders. – from The Scent of Oranges, page 211 –

I was back in the orange groves on a crisp golden morning when I saw them for the first time. Beneath the trees, I noticed a ripple in the leaves hugging the ground. Was it a mouse or small animal? I lay in a furrow holding my breath. I had dug welts into my thighs by the time I saw them, three shimmering creatures darting between the trees and only as tall as one of Pa’s beer bottles. Their pointed brown faces were too small and their features far too fine to discern details. I watched fascinated until a breeze swept them away. – from The Scent of Oranges, page 186 –

The book is narrated through Linda’s point of view and its strengths are the descriptions of South Africa and its people. I did not find the mystery itself that compelling – perhaps because the pace of the story is slow and early in the book Linda is often met with silence to her inquiries about the murder. Zawatzky takes a long time to build tension and resolve the conflicts which are introduced between the characters. This meandering pace is frustrating at times. I also found the dialogue to be the weakest element of the novel – stilted and unconvincing, all the characters began to sound the same to me after awhile. Because of this, I found myself feeling distanced from the characters as though I was observing their story, but not part of it.

Despite these flaws, Zawatzky does an adequate job in revealing the cultural divide between the native people and the western, often affluent population of South Africa. The magical elements of the book – visits from spirits and the belief in voodoo – were well written and compelling.

The Scent of Oranges is not a dynamic read, but readers who wish to learn more about the culture of post-Apartheid South Africa will find this novel enlightening.


Read more reviews of this book:

Marcia at The Printed Page

Dar at Peeking Between the Pages

Rachel at Old Musty Books

Sunny at That Book Addiction

Midnight’s Children – Book Review

midnightschildren1 I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it’s important to be more…On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clockhands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. – from Midnight’s Children, page 3 –

Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize winning novel Midnight’s Children is the story of a nation narrated by Saleem Sinai who embodies the history of India by being born at the exact moment of India’s independence (August 15, 1947). Other children, also born between midnight and one o’clock on this day, discover they are able to telepathically communicate with each other.

In fact, all over the new India, the dream we all shared, children were being born who were only partially the offspring of their parents – the children of midnight were also the children of the time: fathered, you understand, by history. It can happen. Especially in a country which is itself a sort of dream. – from Midnight’s Children, page 132 –

The novel is allegorical, narrated in the first person, and spans more than sixty years from before Saleem is born until he is thirty years old. Saleem’s voice is arrogant, satirical and tangential.

Family history, of course, has its proper dietary laws. One is supposed to swallow and digest only the permitted parts of it, the halal portions of the past, drained of their redness, their blood. Unfortunately this makes the stories less juicy; so I am about to become the first and only member of my family to flout the laws of halal. Letting no blood escape from the body of the tale, I arrive at the unspeakable part; and, undaunted press on.from Midnight’s Children, page 62 –

Although difficult to follow at times, Rushdie’s sense of humor was one of the aspects of the novel I enjoyed.

Poor Padma. Things are getting her goat. Perhaps even her name: understandably enough, since her mother told her, when she was small, that she had been named after the lotus goddess, whose most common appellation amojngst village folk is “The One Who Possesses Dung.” – from Midnight’s Children, page 20 –

Despite these light moments, Midnight’s Children is not a light read. I really struggled to finish this book – and my feelings about it are mixed. Rushdie’s prose is full of symbolism, analogies, magical realism and the complex history of India. The book has multiple themes (the individual vs. the masses and destruction vs. creation to name two). It is also full of numerous characters – some minor, some major and everything in between. I often found myself scratching my head trying to understand it all.

Important to concentrate on good hard facts. But which facts? One week before my eighteenth birthday, on August 8th, did Pakistani troops in civilian clothing cross the cease-fire line in Kashmir and infiltrate the Indian sector, or did they not? In Delhi, Prime Minister Shastri announced “massive infiltration…to subvert the state”; but here is Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, with his riposte: “We categorically deny any involvement in the rising against tyranny by the indigenous people of Kashmir.” – from Midnight’s Children, page 387 –

Rushdie is obviously brilliant. He knows how to tell a story. And yet I did not really enjoy reading this book and there are very few people to whom I could recommend it. If you are a person with some understanding of Indian culture and history and who loves symbolic stories filled with elements of magical realism, you might want to give Midnight’s Children a try. I am told it is one of his more accessible novels. If that is true, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more Rushdie in the near future.


BookAwards II Challenge

August 1, 2008 – June 1, 2009


I read 10 award winners from the following prize lists:

  1. Pulitzer Special Awards
  2. Anthony Award
  3. Orange Prize for Fiction
  4. Booker Prize
  5. Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
  6. IMPAC Dublin Award
  7. Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature
  8. Whitbread/Costa Award
  9. Commonwealth Writers Prize

My favorite reads of the bunch included: Maus I & II, Rebecca, Out Stealing Horses, The Road Home, The Secret River, and Music and Silence – all of which I rated 5/5.

Thank you to Michelle for hosting this fun challenge!


Michelle from 1MoreChapter is hosting part 2 of the BookAwards Challenge. I completed (and exceeded) the first one (reading 17 award winning books!) and can’t wait to continue reading award winning literature into 2009. I’m creating a list here, but don’t be surprised if it changes! The goal is 10 books representing a minimum of 5 different awards.

My preliminary list:

  1. Maus I and Maus II, by Art Spiegelman (1992 Pulitzer in Special Awards and Citations – Letters) – COMPLETED August 31, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review.
  2. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier (Winner of the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century) – COMPLETED November 7, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review.
  3. Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson (Winner of the 2006 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, 2003 Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature, AND 2007 IMPAC Dublin Award) – COMPLETED January 6, 2009; rated 5/5; read my review.
  4. The Road Home, by Rose Tremain (Winner of the 2008 Orange Prize for Fiction) – COMPLETED January 16, 2009; rated 5/5; read my review)
  5. Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald (Winner of the 1979 Booker Prize) – COMPLETED March 27, 2009; rated 3.5/5; read my review.
  6. The Secret River, by Kate Grenville (2006 Commonwealth Writers Prize) – COMPLETED October 13, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review.
  7. Music and Silence, by Rose Tremain (1999 Whitbread/Costa Award) – COMPLETED October 9, 2008; rated 5/5; read my review.
  8. The Ghost Road, by Pat Barker (1995 Booker Award) – COMPLETED December 25, 2008; rated 4.5/5; read my review.
  9. The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga (2008 Booker Award) – COMPLETED January 3, 2009; rated 4/5; read my review.
  10. Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie (1981 Booker Award) – COMPLETED May 30, 2009; rated 3/5; read my review.