I'm way behind on posting here and, for various reasons, all but one of the following books are currently not in my possession - so these are pretty short reviews.
4. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, Paper
The back made it sound wonderful: a scribe in central Asia searching for the perfect paper, while his town's location at a crossroads of travel and politics impacts upon his life. While it is about that, the execution is not as good as I'd hoped. A lot of time is given over to the Scribe's unhappy musings about his life and how he's just not capable of writing the perfect book. Events unfold sometimes slowly, sometimes offstage, with the overall effect of not particularly gripping me. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani's language is lovely in places and some of the characters are interesting, but I felt like the novel isn't quite as focused as it could have been: it muses, it tells, but it doesn't quite work. Certainly interesting, though, and I intend to re-read it sometime because I suspect there are layers to be found. Also there's a chronology of paper-related history at the back which is marvellous.
5. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo & Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio, eds. Why I Travel and other essays by fourteen women
Now this was a find! It's a collection of travel essays by Filipina, with a section focusing on local destinations and another on international ones. A small section at the back considers the how of travel in particular; one my favourite essays is here, concerning how a wheelchair-bound woman has discovered that she shouldn't feel too limited by her situation, and she tells all about her adventures in a Moroccan souk on donkey-back and other experiences around the world, where the help of a few people has resulted in her having a fantastic time. The essays sometimes describe the places visited, sometimes dwell on personal history in that places (especially in the local section), and are almost all engaging and interesting.
6. Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Sightseeing
A collection of short stories by a Thai author. This means, crucially, that you're getting stories about Thailand as a complex and real place, not the magical land of golden temples and hookers often described by farang writers. Rattawut is concerned with the regular Thai person, not particularly wealthy, often in a perpetual balancing act just above poverty. He writes about a young boy's relationship with a Cambodian refugee whose now-dead father put all their wealth in her gold teeth; he writes about a young man whose mother is on the verge of going blind; he writes about a teenaged girl whose poor father is losing his cockfights to a rich bully, and the various consequences this has on their family; he writes about a wealthy teenaged boy dodging the draft while his poorer friend cannot; and so on. In some stories, the plot itself is not particularly innovative. The entire emotional arc of the draft-dodging story was predictable, for instance. But the way Rattawut writes allows you to really get into his characters' heads and understand their various decisions, so they are not distant or simple stories, and the Thailand he writes about is a difficult, interesting, complicated place. Definitely recommended, especially for readers of realist fiction or those interested in Thailand/SE Asia as depicted by a local.
7. Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red
Oh, My Name is Red, I did want to adore you. Those long beautiful passages on the nature of art and miniaturism and history are, in my opinion, worth the price of admission alone. (Especially if you, uh, got it for cheaps at an Indian pavement book stall.) Yet the characters are almost all un-captivating and parts of the plot progress strangely. A character is tortured and, within pages of the torture ending, decides that the man who gave the order is going to be his new mentor and father figure, and Pamuk spends the rest of the book telling us that they have a deep and meaningful bond. We're told a lot about characterisation in this book. I enjoyed reading about historic Istanbul (and I can't imagine the city under snow!) and, as I said, his tangents were divine, and parts of the murder plot were pretty interesting. Overall, though, a bit of a flawed package.
8. Githa Hariharan, When Dreams Travel
A novel about storytelling and storytellers, especially female, typically powerless ones. Hariharan takes the myth of Shahrzad and begins after it ended, with her sister Dunyazad returning to Shahrzad's palace to help her husband construct her tomb. Echoes of the Taj Mahal in its vast splendour and the Sultan's obsession and the consequences. Dunyazad and a scheming maidservant with a peculiarly hairy mole meet and share stories, including many of a hair-covered woman who was eventually ostracised by her community -- revolving around the possibility that Shahrzad escaped and they can too, from the entrapments of the old 1001 Night story and the present concerns of their lives. When Dreams Travel is a curious, meandering book, beautifully written.