1960s Classics

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born – Ayi Armah

The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born (Heinemann African Writers Series)

Five words from the blurb: Ghana, bribes, corruption, temptation, scorn

This week Kinna Reads is hosting Ghanaian Literature Week. Keen to join in I went online to research books from Ghana. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born was described as “a cornerstone of African literature” and “as important as Things Fall Apart by Achebe “. I hadn’t heard of it, but with quotes like that I felt I had to read it.

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born is set in the mid 1960s and confronts the corruption present in the country after its independence. The central character is an unnamed railway clerk who resists bribes. The book explores issues of integrity and shows what life is like for ordinary citizens who have to live with corruption on a daily basis.

Unfortunately this book was so slow and tedious to read that any impact was lost on me.

Crossing over to the side of the main connecting road nearer the sea, the man walked the whole distance to the Essei area, keeping just behind the breakwater that kept the sea from destroying the road. Now and then the headlights of some oncoming vehicle came and blinded him and afterward the darkness of the night was even deeper and more infinite than before, so that a little of the lost comfortable feeling of the man alone in the world outside, so unlike the loneliness of the beloved surrounded by the grieving loved ones, came back to him in little frustrating sweet moments that were gone before they could be grasped. And yet, in some region of his mind, the thought almost rose: that it should not really be possible for the guiltless to feel so beaten down with the accusation of those so near….

The sentence structure was often awkward and difficult to follow and the pace was so slow that it would take him several pages just to get out of his chair. Lots of profound statements were buried in the text, but I had so little connection to the characters that I didn’t care.

Things picked up a bit towards the end and so I managed to complete this short book (180 pages), but it took a lot longer than expected.

I can see why this is an important piece of African literature and I’m sure that much more would be revealed if you were to spend time studying the text, but I’m afraid I found it a frustratingly slow read.


Head over to Kinna Reads to discover more Ghanaian Literature.

1960s 1970s Non Fiction Recommended books

The Mountain People – Colin Turnbull


…..our much-vaunted human values are not inherent in humanity at all, but a luxury of ordered society.



Five words from the blurb: tribe, starvation, cruelty, individual, society 

In 1964 anthropologist Colin Turnbull spent two years living with the Ik, a tribe living in the mountainous borders of Uganda and Kenya. Crops had failed for two years in a row and people were dying from starvation. This book details the shocking events he witnessed as the people struggled to survive.

Turnbull saw that the basic structure of society seemed to have been lost as everyone cared only about themselves.

Children are useless appendages, like old parents. Anyone who cannot take care of himself is a burden and a hazard to the survival of others.

The old and young were left to die – food sometimes even being stolen from their mouths. The people failed to display any of the characteristics we think of as being common to all humans, failing to show the slightest degree of compassion for those who were suffering.

…she was totally blind and had tripped and rolled to the bottom of the oror a pirre’i, and there she lay on her back, her legs and arms thrashing feebly, while a little crowd standing on the edge above looked down at her and laughed at the spectacle.

The tribe were also unusual in that the structure of the family unit had completely broken down. Children were thrown out of the home at the age of three, elderly relatives were ignored, and even the husband-wife relationship was minimal.

This entire book had me gripped and questioning how strong our own society is. In many ways this book was similar to Blindness, but the scary thing is that Mountain People is true. Human beings actually did these things to one another and there is little to stop it from happening again somewhere else.

This book isn’t perfect – there are some points when the writing is a bit dry or when too many geographical or anthropological details are added to a section, but these are very minor issues.

This book is a fascinating insight into what could happen to a society when there simply isn’t enough food for all to survive. It is my favourite read of the year so far.


So how did I discover this fantastic book?
After my disapproval of Anne Robinson as a host on the recent My Life in Books TV series (because she doesn’t like fiction) I am almost embarrassed to admit that I first heard about this book in an article she wrote for the Radio Times. All I can say is that Anne Robinson has a fantastic taste in non-fiction books and I will be keeping an eye out for more of her recommendations in future.

1960s Classics

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John Le Carré

I had never read a spy novel. I’d assumed they consisted of numerous chase scenes and gun fights –  just like the Bond films my husband loves but I find tedious and repetitive. I’m always willing to confront my prejudices so when Annabel selected The Spy Who Came in from the Cold as her book of the year I decided to give it a try. It was very different from my expectations, but I’m afraid I don’t think I’m a fan of spy stories.

I was immediately struck by the quality of the writing. For some reason I’d expected it to be fast paced and of an average writing quality, but I was wrong. The pace was actually quite slow and contained many descriptive passages. I really enjoyed reading the beginning of the book and getting to know Leamas, the disgraced agent asked to perform one last mission.

Unfortunately the book went downhill as it progressed. Too many characters were introduced and I struggled to follow who they were. I have since discovered that earlier books introduced many of these people and I think knowing their backgrounds would have been hugely beneficial to appreciating this book.

I also came to realise that real spying bares little resemblance to James Bond films. Real spying is quite dull – it involves a lot of time waiting and making complex negotiations with others. I became bored with the lack of action and increasingly reluctant to continue reading.

I thought the last chapter was fantastic, but I’m afraid it was too little too late.

Annabel’s review indicates that she is a big fan of spy novels: she has read many of Le Carré’s other books and has watched the film. I have a feeling that this all contributed to her increased enjoyment of the book as I’m sure it gets better the more you understand the motivations of the numerous characters. I’m pleased that I’ve read this modern classic, but I’m afraid I’m not going to be rushing to read more spy stories.

1960s Classics

The Woman in the Dunes – Kobo Abe

 Translated from the Japanese by E. Dale Saunders

The Woman in the Dunes is a classic of Japanese literature. It was first published in 1962 and immediately received critical acclaim. It is said to have influenced Murakami and the new Penguin classics version has an introduction written by David Mitchell, so perhaps you can see why I had to read a copy!

The book focuses on Niki Jumpei, an insect enthusiast, who heads to the sand dunes in the hope of finding a new species of beetle. At the end of a long, fruitless search he looks for somewhere to shelter for the night. He finds a strange village on the dunes and agrees to spend the night in the home of a young widow. In the morning he wakes to find that the rope ladder he climbed down has been removed and he is trapped in the steep-sided sandpit. The villagers force him to shovel the ever-encroaching sand that threatens to bury the village and he wonders if there is any possibility of escape from this nightmare.

This house was already half dead. Its insides were half eaten away by tentacles of ceaselessly flowing sand.

The Woman in the Dunes is a very accessible novel, making it the perfect introduction to Japanese literature. I loved the simple, yet powerful themes present in this book, as we witness one man’s struggle for survival against man and nature. The tone of the book is quite bleak and the scenes are described so vividly that you can almost feel the sand getting into every crevice and crease of your body.

There are many elements of Japanese mythology in this book, but unlike some Murakami it stays grounded in reality (if you consider it realistic to trap people in giant sandpits!). The book is quite short and the suspenseful nature of the plot means that it is a quick read. The simplicity of the story line is the only reason I haven’t rated this book higher. It should become a classic every language, but its fleeting time in my life means that I probably won’t give it much thought in the coming months.

Recommended – especially to those who want to try Japanese literature for the first time.


…a very powerful and intriguing book  Tony’s reading List

Extremely provocative, mind-bending, but most of all the uncomfortable. Paper Foxes Run Run

….a bleakly beautiful rendering of nature’s ultimate authority. Incurable Logophilia

Kobe Abe has written several books and I am keen to read more of his work.

Have you read any of Kobo Abe’s books?

1960s Other Prizes Recommended books Science Fiction

Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes

 < ?php echo amazonim('1857989384'); ?>Winner of the Nebula Award 1966

< ?php echo amazon('1857989384','Flowers for Algernon ‘); ?> was originally published as a short story which won the 1960 Hugo Award for best short fiction. It was later expanded to produce this fantastic piece of science fiction.

The book introduces us to Charlie, a 30-year-old man with a very low IQ. He is mocked by society, but his intelligence is such that he is unaware of the cruelty. Charlie yearns to be like everyone else – to able to read and write fluently, and to be successful. One day he is given the chance to make this happen when he is offered a place on a groundbreaking new experiment, which has the potential to turn him into a genius.

The book is written in the form of Charlie’s diary, so we are able to follow the changes in his intelligence by noting the quality of his spelling, grammar and comprehension. I thought that this showed an outstanding quality of writing. I found myself studying the differences in text on neighbouring pages and being very impressed by the subtle changes that were taking place. The personal nature of the diary also meant that it was easy to connect with Charlie – he is such a fantastic character that it was impossible not to fall in love with him

This is an amazing book and I was gripped from beginning to end. It was thought-provoking throughout, covering issues from the importance of intelligence, to what is needed to be happy. There was the odd occasion when I felt the text over-stepped the mark and lectured the reader, telling me things that I should have been shown, but I’m willing to forgive this, as the quality of the rest of the book was so high, and the messages that the text was conveying were very important.

How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes – how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence.

The book takes you on an emotional roller coaster, which left me thinking about it for hours. I am sure that the powerful, original plot will remain with me for many years to come.

If you think that you don’t enjoy science fiction, then I challenge you to read this book and still say that.

Flowers for Algernon has just become one of my all-time favourite reads and I highly recommend it.



I chose this book for our London book group. We all loved it! Savidge Reads, Reading Matters and Novel Insights have also written wonderful reviews.


The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar was the first book chosen by my new book group. I apologise for the length of time it has taken me to write this review (more than a month – I have just posted the review for the second book group choice!), but I was so busy with the Bookers that this review kept getting pushed to the bottom of the pile.

The Bell Jar was originally published in 1963, just a few weeks before the author committed suicide. I had avoided this book in the past, as I thought it would be a dark, depressing book, but I was pleasantly surprised. The book does deal with some difficult subject matter, but it never felt oppressive. I found myself smiling at several sections, and never felt sad.

The book begins with Esther Greenwood,  a young woman, heading to New York to begin an internship with a New York Fashion magazine. Despite being set in 1953 the writing felt very modern. The majority of this section could easily have happened yesterday and I was immediately drawn to her. 

Instead of enjoying her new life Esther quickly becomes overwhelmed by it. She spirals into a depression and makes several feeble, almost comical, attempts at suicide. The treatment she receives for her depression is a stark reminder of how much mental health care has improved in the last 50 years. There were also some interesting sections showing how life for women has changed over the years.

Finally I decided that if it was so difficult to find a red-blooded intelligent man who was still pure by the time he was twenty-one I might as well forget about staying pure myself and marry somebody who wasn’t pure either. Then when he started to make my life miserable I could make his miserable as well.

This book was easy to read, and due to the large number of discussion points, perfect for book groups.




Have you read The Bell Jar?

Did you find it depressing?