2009 Booker Prize

Not Untrue and Not Unkind – Ed O’Loughlin

 Long listed for the Booker Prize 2009

Not Untrue and Not Unkind follows a group of foreign correspondents covering breaking news stories in Africa. Their work is dangerous, but brings a camaraderie not normally seen between people with such different personalities.

This is a very good book and I can see why it made it on to the Booker long list. The writing is vivid, shocking at times, but always clear and easy to follow. It lost some momentum towards the middle, but picked up again after a few chapters.

The subject matter of the book means that some scenes are disturbing to read. The contrast between the African people and the reporters, who only glimpse the horrors before heading back to their posh hotels, emphasizes the differences between the two groups.

The plot was straight forward, but while it was an interesting insight into the life of a reporter, it didn’t have that special spark I’m looking for in a book. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and often felt detached from the horrors I was reading about.

Recommended to anyone considering becoming a war correspondent, and fans of Kate Adie’s books, but it isn’t really my sort of thing.


Do you enjoy books written by war correspondents?

Was this book one of your favourites from the Booker list this year?

2008 2009 Orange Prize

The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam – Lauren Liebenberg

 Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers 2008.

I picked up this book purely based on the great title, and only later noticed that it had been shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers 2008.

The book is set on a remote farm in Rhodesia, and is narrated by Nyree, an eight-year-old girl. Nyree and her younger sister, Cia, are left to roam inside the farm’s large fences, and together they discover the sights and sounds of Africa. The girls know little about the world on the other side of the fence until their orphaned cousin, Ronin, arrives and their world is changed forever.

The book is simply written and is very short, so I read it in one evening. It flows along quickly, but the lack of depth, or perhaps the fact that my own childhood was so different to theirs, meant I didn’t fully engage with the story. The book is clearly well researched, but I felt like I was being fed one African cliche after another, which is a shame as the author clearly knew Rhodesia well.

The ending was so sad, but seemed pointless. I don’t know why the book needed such a tragic ending and felt as though I was being depressed just for the sake of it.

Great title, but I’m afraid it wasn’t for me.


This has to be one of my favourite book titles.

Have you spotted a really good title?

Did it persuade you to read the book?

2009 Recommended books

The Ghosts of Eden by Andrew Sharp

The Ghosts of Eden follows the lives of two children growing up in Uganda. Micheal is the child of missionaries and the book begins with him battling against claustrophobia on his first flight back to Uganda since he left to study medicine. He is finally distracted from his fear when the passenger in the seat next to him dies.

Zachye lives in rural Uganda where he helps his brother, Stanley, look after the family’s cattle. Zachye’s father dreams of a better life for his sons and arranges for them to be sent to school. The book touches on how the introduction of technology to the country changes their lives. Their observations of new objects were fascinating and I loved seeing them learn how to use things which we take for granted:

He could not think what was expected of him, so he took the green lump on the plate, put it to his lips and took a bite. It had the texture of the hardened fat of an animal. Dung Beetle snatched it back. ‘Are you so ignorant?’
Stanley started gagging, and spat again and again, although his dry mouth had little to spit. The food was worse than he could ever have imagined. He thought it little wonder that his ancestors had decided to take nothing but milk and blood.
‘Ha! He has eaten the soap,’ shouted a voice in the queue.  

The author, Andrew Sharp, is a medical doctor, and this shines through his writing. I love books written by doctors. Ever since I discovered Michael Crichton’s books as a teenager I have noticed that doctors seem to have an incredible gift for writing about human nature. Perhaps it is because they see so much more of it in the course of their work, or because they are more intelligent than the average person, either way the doctor’s magic is present throughout this book. It is packed with insightful observations about society and detailed medical knowledge.

The first half of the book concentrates on the lives of the two very different boys growing up in East Africa and is one of the best pieces of writing about life as a child I have seen. I was captivated by their innocent view of the world and loved their childish banter. The author perfectly captures the minds of the two boys – and to be able to do this convincingly with two completely different cultures is an outstanding achievement.

The Ghosts of Eden also reveals much about the superstitions and spirit world of the African people. Although I have read a few books which have contained this subject before (most notably Ben Okri’s Famished Road) This is the first book in which I have been made to understand their belief system and not just been confused by it.

Unfortunately, the book goes downhill a bit in the middle section. The lives of the boys as adults did not interest me anywhere near as much as that of their childhood. In fact, I didn’t like either of them very much when they meet for the first time and fall in love with the same woman. Luckily the plot held my attention and the ending was good enough to make up for the minor lapse of the middle section.

I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to read about African culture, without battling with symbolism or the endless horrors of war. It is a beautifully written story, and I think it has just become my favourite book with an African setting.


What is your favourite book set in Africa?

Have you noticed that doctors make great authors?

2009 Recommended books Short Story

The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is the best selection of short stories I have ever read! Chimamanda’s ability to draw you into each of the characters in such a small space of time is phenomenal. The short stories are focused upon Nigerian life, but many of them are based in the west. The balance between tragedy and happiness is perfect, leading to a book which does not dwell on hardship, but shows vivid glimpses of it, making the messages come across far more powerfully than continual horrific scenes.

Each story is unique, and although they all contain Nigerian characters, none have the same atmosphere or feel like repetitions of the same idea. The book is very easy to read, and is the perfect introduction to her writing style, as Half of a Yellow Sun, although I’m sure it will be amazing, is very long. 

The only flaw in this book is that I was left yearning to know more about each character. I could easily have read whole novels based on each short story, in fact I’d be happy to read a book written by her once a month for the rest of my life! She gets my vote for a Nobel Prize – how many books do you have to have written to qualify as a ‘body of work?’  Sorry for gushing, but talent like this needs to be read by everyone!

Highly recommended to everyone!!


I’m really looking forward to reading Half of a Yellow Sun next week, and hope it will have the character depth and plot complexity to become my third, five star read of the year.

Is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie one of your favourite authors?

Which of her books do you like the best?

Will you be rushing out to buy a copy of this one as soon as  it is released?

If you can’t wait until June then you could order a copy from the UK – just click on the book cover above!

Have you ever ordered a copy of a book from another country, just to get it a few weeks earlier?

I’ve ordered a copy of Sarah Water’s new book, The Little Stranger from America, just so I can read it a few weeks before it is released here in the UK!!

I look forward to hearing all your thoughts!