Golden Deeds by Catherine Chidgey

Golden Deeds by Catherine Chidgey

At the end of May, we went to New Zealand to visit some friends.  Our friend took us to visit their best independent bookstores, probably because my husband forced him.  We visited a store called The Piggery, and I discovered a section of New Zealand authors, so I decided to pick one up so I could check New Zealand of my list, and Golden Deeds was the one that captured my attention.

The blurbs on the back about the author all seemed very positive (as they usually are) but when I came home, the reviews on Goodreads weren’t that great.  But no turning back.  This is one of those stories that tells several stories that somehow connect up. Patrick Mercer, an Englishman, leaves his wife one day, and at some point is involved in an accident and is a coma.  Collette, a university student in New Zealand, receives letters with updates on his condition, but doesn’t know who he is.  Another family are living with their grief after their teenage daughter went missing and was never found again.  Everyone is on some sort of journey.

I love a book that tells several stories that connect together in some unexpected way. I enjoyed journeying with these characters. But then it ends.  I was disappointed, because I was hoping the mystery of the missing daughter would be solved. We were on the brink of discovery.  No satisfaction at all.  Some people prefer endings like that, but I’m not a fan. For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend this novel.  However it was kind of cool to read a book set in a similar area to where I had just visited.  It does help the imagery come to life in your mind.

Do you have any recommendations for authors from New Zealand?


The Parrots

The Parrots by Filippo Bologna.  Translated by Howard Curtis

This book is a satire of the world of literary prizes, which I don’t really follow and even less so with the Italian literary prize scene. Some of this may have been lost on me, but I still found this to be a great read. The Parrots tells the story of the three finalists for a literary prize, the Beginner, the Writer and the Master.  Each have their own story to tell in the lead up to the award. The narrator of this story appears to be someone mysterious and all-knowing; knowing more than even the characters living the story.  None of the characters have real names, being defined by one characteristic.  Beyond the finalists, the background characters include the Girlfriend, the Ex Wife, the Second Wife, and the Publisher.  This helps create some distance between the reader and the characters, so even when they are making terrible choices, you can casually observe from a distance and enjoy the results.

This story is about what one is willing to do to achieve the Prize, and for what one is willing to give up the Prize.  It’s about achieving that success that will overshadow perceived failures. The humour is dark, but that also helps the story from getting too heavy.

I found this to be an enjoyable read, even for someone not part of the world of literary prizes.


A Meal in Winter

A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli.  Translated by Sam Taylor.

Some people may dismiss Twitter as a platform for people to reveal what they are having for lunch, but someone once shared with me about how much you can learn from someone by their meals.  Are they skipping lunch? Did they have something prepared? Do they pick up something easy but unhealthy? Are they eating alone or with friends? We can learn a lot from a simple meal.

This novella is a bit like that; it’s a meal that shares so much more with the readers.  Hubert Mingarelli is a French author who wrote this book about German Nazi soldiers in Poland.  The plot is limited.  The soldiers sneak out to catch Jews to avoid having to shoot the previous captives.  If they succeed, they can also get out of it the following day.  A meal is prepared from limited ingredients in the harsh cold of winter and shared between the soldiers, their prisoner, a random person passing by and his dog.

I was a bit reluctant to read a book set in this era. It has been done so many times before, and a number of other books I’ve been gifted for this challenge are set in the same era.  However, this book is something else. The word I used to describe how I felt when I finished reading it was ‘suffocated’.  Like all my air had been taken away and I was left breathless. There is a power in these words that punches you right in the guts.

It’s a short book and a simple concept but there is so much hidden in these pages.  I recommend checking it out.


The People of Forever are Not Afraid

The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu tells the story of three Israeli women as they finish high school, complete their compulsory enlistment in the Israeli Defence Force, and their life afterwards.  The chapters alternate in their point of view of the different girl, sometimes not revealing just which narrator until several pages into the chapter. Some parts of their story are similar to other young women; stories of boys and romantic relationships, making new friends while maintaining old friendships, and starting new jobs.  However this is against a back drop of military service; learning and training others who to shoot, managing checkpoints, guarding borders.  Sometimes it feels so mundane, but then it’s not. The book is marked with glimpses of tragedy and its everlasting impact.

When I started my Around the World Challenge, this is exactly the sort of book I wanted to read. Something that reveals something new to me.  I was aware of the mandatory conscription in Israel but beyond that, hadn’t thought much about it.  This book gives some perspective as to what that is like.  Each character shares a small part of their own story, piecing together to create a bigger picture, highlighting that each role, no matter how small it may be perceived, has its importance in large military operations.

This book also shows the lives of these young women after they leave the military and start new chapters of their lives.  They carry their scars into their new lives which impacts on the new relationships they form.  It makes me wonder how this impacts on the country, with whole generations of their people having these intense experiences.  Does it make it better to have everyone have to experience this, or is it just leaving everyone that little bit traumatised?

Shani Boianjiu has been well recognised for this novel. She was the first Israeli to be longlisted for UK’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.  The book was selected as one of the ten best fiction titles of 2012 by the Wall Street Journal. The book has been released and critically acclaimed in many countries. Shani is reportedly working on her next novel now, so I look forward to seeing what she releases next.


All Dogs are Blue

All Dogs are Blue, written by Rodrigo de Souza Leão, and translated by Zoe Perry and Stefan Tobler.

This is the first real book I read as part of my challenge. In the beginning of the year, I had read books I received for Christmas, so was able to check off some of the easier countries from my list: Australia, United Kingdom, United States of America.

After I finished Ken Follet’s epic story, Edge of Eternity, and still had an afternoon free in front of me, I went looking on our own bookshelves for something else to read. I picked up All Dogs are Blue by Brazilian author, Rodrigo de Souza Leão.  It appeared to be a short book, which is probably what I needed after the previous book of 1098 pages.  But in its own way, this book is exhausting.

I didn’t know much about this book beyond what was on the back cover. It includes an introduction from another author, Deborah Levy, which helped set the scene for me a lot.  There are things that happen later in the book that made more sense with the context that Deborah had created. 

 I have been to Brazil, but done the usual touristy things. Copacabana beach, Christ the redeemer, all that stuff.  None of this features in the book.  This book explore mental illness, which perhaps could be universal.  Treatment and conditions probably vary in different countries, but this book is about a man lost in his psychosis.

This story is confusing and erratic, probably similar to living with psychosis. This semi-autobiographical story shares the author’s experiences of living with schizophrenia. Some sentences are so powerful and then spiral into a more confusing place. There is an underlying feeling of heartbreak.

I was grateful for the endnotes.  There were a number of references to things specifically Brazilian that I definitely would have missed on my own.  Different phrases, local festivals, references to local poets and songs.  The translators did a great job in helping us understand these things.

I feel that perhaps I am not intelligent enough to fully comprehend the importance of this work. I am glad I read it though and I might re-read it again in the future. I think one could probably discover more in the text on re-reading it. 

 This book has been adapted for the theatre, which would be interesting to check out.

Leão also wrote nine other books and was the co-founder of the electronic poetry magazine Zunái.  He rarely left his home, but used social media to stay connected with the world and was able to connect with other Brazilian writers.  He died in a psychiatric care facility shortly after this book was released, with his other works being published since then. You can learn more about Leão at


Around the World Reading List

Here is my list of countries, as determined by
I will include the titles and authors of the books I read as I go.
Australia:  Alison by Margaret Watts
  • A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli, Translated by Sam Taylor.  (A story of German soldiers in Poland by a French Novelist, where does this really belong?)  Review. 

Reading the World

One of my new year’s resolution’s for this year, and many years beyond, was to read a book from every country in the world.

Its hardly an original idea.  I recently discovered that its been done fairly thoroughly over at  But i decided I need a variety of voices in my life. Its easy to fall into the habit of just reading whatever is on the best seller list, usually english speaking white men.  Not always a bad thing, but its time for something new for me.

I found an online book club that reads books around the world, but its about where the book is set rather than where the author comes from, so it easy just to read books set in other countries written by the same voices you’ve always read, but I want a more authentic story.

It can be difficult though.  People don’t always just belong to one country.  Many people move countries.  Someone can be born in one country, and grow up in another.  Some people live in multiple countries. Some people even have citizenship in more than one country.  Some people grow up in a country but still identify themselves as part of the country of their parents.  If an author describes themselves as Haitian American, do I tick off Haiti or USA?

There also seems to be the problem that not every country has books translated into English.  I will leave those countries until the end. Maybe it will change. Otherwise I’ll make do by reading a book set in that country.

I’m also wondering if i should start from scratch, or do i include books that I’ve read in the past.

So i have a lot of questions, but i’ll just feel my way through it and see how i go.

I just wanted to write about it here, because i wanted somewhere to document the journey.  I’ll create a page with a list of countries so that I can mark them off as i go.  I might include some book reviews along the way.  I’m looking forward to the challenge.