Around the World in 80 Books: Nigeria & New Zealand

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Welcome to the next installment in my Around the World in 80 Books Challenge! It’s exactly what it sounds like: I’m trying to read 80 books from 80 different countries/cultures around the world, and to add a frugal spin, I’m trying to do it all for under $20.

Here’s my running tally so far:
$0- Library books: Russia, Norway, Sweden, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Spain
$2.75- Late fees on the book for Italy
$0- Free eBooks: Scotland, England, Portugal, Cyprus, Albania, Montenegro, Mongolia
$0- Gift: Turkey, Pakistan
$0- Won in a Giveaway: Jerusalem
$1.99- eBook: Basque Country, Japan
$0- Paid review on an interesting read: Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Grand Total: $6.73

Both of today’s reads were free library books, so as long as I drop them off by Wednesday, that total should stay the same. Somebody hold me accountable!

Neither the book for Nigeria or New Zealand were my favorite books ever. But they both held a certain type of power. They’re important. And I’m glad I read them both.

Head’s up: today’s post contains more spoilers than usual. So if you’re thinking about reading either title, especially The Bone People, stop here. Then come back and discuss with me when you’re done!


Under the Udala Trees

This book focused on LGBT issues in Nigeria. It’s historical fiction, and as I later found out, meant to be a Young Adult novel.

The story is set in the midst of Nigeria’s very real civil war which spanned the 60’s to the 70’s. The main character discovers her sexuality when she is sent away to become a house servant for another family in an arguably “safer” town. She’s a lesbian.

She ends up battling it her entire life, trying to hide it, submerge it, and at times, even accept it. But coming out is a very dangerous proposition. Nigeria, which this book taught me is the second most religious country in the world, still stones people and worse if they stray from the traditional Christian viewpoint of one man plus one woman is the only way God intended things.

There is death. Some of it is related to the war. Some of it is related to sexual orientation and subsequent persecution. But there is also joy. I don’t want to ruin things too much, so I won’t disclose how she finds it.

I feel like this is a very important read. According to the author, things have not gotten better for the LGBT community in Nigeria since the time period this book was set in. And, as with Sierra Leone, I had no idea that there even was a war in Nigeria until I turned the pages of this novel.

Like I said, it wasn’t my favorite book ever. There was a large portion where her mother took her through the Bible, instructing her on why her sexuality was wrong. The main character questions and tears apart the biblical verses for what they actually are instead of what they’ve been interpreted to mean.

It was an important part of the read, but being a grown adult who grew up in Christianity, I had already done this myself and arrived at similar conclusions to the main character. So it was a little bit too explanatory for my tastes. But when I found out it was meant to be a young adult novel, the extreme detail made more sense. It may be the first introduction to these concepts for the intended target audience.

It’s also really intense for a young adult novel. But again, really important. Even the part I felt was laborious to read was extremely well-written.

New Zealand

The Bone People

Emma from Money Can Buy Me Happiness recommended this one to me. Emma’s from New Zealand herself, and this book had won The Booker Prize in 1985.

The book was beautifully, if unconventionally written. I didn’t want to put it down once. But it was also maddening. If you want to read this book, you’ll want to stop reading this review here. Honestly, it’s probably the best read for others who have read the book.

The first thing I struggled with was that because the characters were mostly Maori, whether by blood or culture, Maori language was used throughout. I had no idea there was a glossary in the back until about half way through; until that point I was using the internet. You’d be surprised (or not) about how little there is in the way of Maori translation online.

When I discovered the glossary, it mostly helped, but I was still left confused sometimes. I struggled with it, but it doesn’t really bother me because the whole point of this challenge is to read books from other cultures. A request to translate every last phrase to my own language when its  integration was there, likely, to demonstrate something and express things that English could not or did not, feels like linguistic oppression.

But there were other things I struggled with. Like the fact that Joe was a violent child abuser, yet he was written with such empathy. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but it’s hard for me to feel a whole lot of pity for someone who all but kills a child in a drunken rage, regardless of what happened to them when they were a child themselves.

There was the fact that mysticism was weaved throughout the story, but never explained beyond a passing mention that it was happening.

The last thing I disliked was that I had no idea what the heck was going at the end. They all get back together, and I think Kerewin marries Joe (presumably platonically?) and adopts Simon. But I have no idea why the state would allow that. Or why finding out that Simon had previously lived with heroine junkies/dealers who had drowned somehow exonerated Joe from his sins. I hated how the narrative fluidly switched to the first person part way through, as I had no idea who the first person was.

If anyone knows how the book actually ended, PLEASE TELL ME. Because I read it and I still have no idea.

But I did like the exposure to a different culture. And like I said, I couldn’t stop turning pages. Amidst my moments of confusion, there were moments I read something that seemed to touch on a distilled life truth. Like these:

“Once I had to work at horrible jobs to earn enough money to buy food to eat in order to live to work at horrible jobs to earn enough…I hated that life. So I quit. I did what my heart told me to do, and painted for a living. I didn’t earn enough to live on, but I wasn’t too unhappy, because I was loved at home and I loved what I was doing. Money was the problem…then it all changed. I won the lottery. I invested it. I earned a fortune by fast talking. And while I was busy blessing the god of munificence, the lightning came. It blasted my family, and it blasted my painting talent. I went straight out of one bind and into a worse one.”

“I am just a waste…the worst thing I bear is the knowledge that others have borne far worse distress and not buckled like this under it. They have been ennobled by their suffering, have discovered meaning and requital in loss…”

“Werahiko: We don’t want to be left out, to sit ignored in the corner, but we might as well be. All the things we’ve got to tell, years of love and life and hate. We’d be a good drink for them, a fullbodied mature wine, and look at them! Overcome by fizzy pop, lollywater brew…


Marama: When they want to listen, they’ll listen. We can’t wake them up just to tell them our stories. They’re busy making their own. And in the meantime, my love, we’ve got each other.”

On Deck

what it's worth

Can’t see the title? Click here.

My friend Katie over at Activehours actually picked this up for me. Thanks, Katie!

Yes, it’s about America, but it goes into the economic adversities that those of my own race and socioeconomic background and others not of my own race and/or socioeconomic background are up against. So we’re not just looking at a homogeneous culture. We’re looking at understanding others in order to find viable solutions.

I’m already loving it. If you want to read it with me, you can get a free e-copy here.

Have a recommendation for what I should read next? Leave it in the comments! Here’s what’s already in my queue:

Canada: The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be by Farley Mowat recommeded by Messy Money
Afghanistan: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg recommended by Savvy Working Gal
Philippines: May Day Eve and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin recommended by Guiltless Reader
Iceland: Scarcity in Excess by Arna Mathiesen & Thomas Forget
Sudan: The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih recommended by Kate Wilson
Kenya: Out of Africa by Karen Blixen recommended by Christine from The Wallet Diet
China: Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang
Ethiopia: The God Who Begat a Jakal by Nega Mezlekia recommended by Based On a True Story
French Antilles: Victoire: My Mother’s Mother by Maryse Conde recommended by Based on A True Story
Suriname: The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod recommended by Based On A True Story
Costa Rica: The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica
France: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr recommended by Our Next Life
Germany: In the Garden of Beasts or Devil in the White City by Erik Larson recommended by Emi from AIP Around the World
Haiti: All Souls Rising by Madison Smartt Bell recommended by Tre from House of Tre
Jamaica: A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James recommended by Jana of Jana Says
South Africa: Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton recommended by Emily from The John & Jane Doe Guide to Money & Investing
Australia: In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson recommended by Aaron from When Life Gives You Lemons, Add Vodka
Romania: Anything by Andre Codrescu recommended by Abigail from I Pick Up Pennies
Mali: Monique and the Mango Rains recommended by Rebecca from Stapler Confessions


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7 thoughts on “Around the World in 80 Books: Nigeria & New Zealand

  1. Jana @ Jana Says

    The hosts of a books podcast I listen to raved about Under the Udala Tree. I generally don’t read historical fiction so I’ll probably skip it but given what it’s about, I might change my mind. Who knows?

    The second one seems like a hard pass for me.

    1. Femme Frugality

      It was beautifully written, and though it is historical fiction, it’s unfamiliar enough to me to not read line it typically does if that makes any sense.

      The other one was a great read, too, just simultaneously infuriating. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced that before!

  2. Hannah

    I thought of The Bone People the same way I thought of Lolita… disgusting but humanizing. I might give it a re-read because I had trouble understanding it too.

    1. Femme Frugality

      That’s a great idea and one I think I’m going to act on after all 80 books are read. I actually did that with the introduction because it was tough before getting to know the characters and it helped a lot.

  3. texerinsydney

    I’m participating in this challenge as well. Maybe I found out about it from Jana mentioning that you were doing it?

    Anyway…I just read Girl at War by Sara Novi for Croatia, and I highly recommend.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      That’s a very good possibility! Mad love to Jana for sharing.

      I will definitely add that one to the list! I add recommendations on the next update, so be on the lookout! Bout to check out your blog…do you have updates on this as well? I’d love to read them!

  4. Pingback: Around the World in 80 Books: Afghanistan & America | Femme Frugality

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