In almost exactly 1 month I’ll be on my way to check mark one of my bucket-list items: doing a Trans-Siberian. We’re starting in China (Beijing), cross Mongolia and finish in Russia (St. Petersburg). It will take about 3 weeks to complete. We’re planning how to spend our time in the long train hours, especially the 4-nights stretch between Lake Baikal and Moscow, and my preparations of course involve the development of my Ultimate Trans-Siberian Reading List 🙂
When I started compiling it in my head it was already waaay too long. We’ll have a lot of free time on our hands, but I also hope to do some sight-seeing, talk with fellow travellers, play board-games (our Settlers of Catan: Travel Edition is already put aside), and idly ruminate about life, the universe and everything else. So the list will have to come under control. I’ve made up my mind about the categories but still need to make a final decision on which books to include in each. The categories are:
- One book from/about each of the 3 countries
- One BIG book I’ve been wanting to read for ever
- One Portuguese book from my TBR shelves
- One random book from the TBR shelves
- Two random audiobooks from my To-hear folder
6 + 2. I think that’s a good number for this trip. As much as possible I’ll try to find Sony Reader’s versions or paperback editions of the ones I don’t already have, so I don’t have to carry them around in the backpack.
Completely split between Dr. Jivago and The Master and Margarita. Help! Although I’ve had bad experiences with surrealism, the story of Master and Margarita seems right up my alley. On the other hand, everyone I know that ever read Dr. Jivago fervently vouches for it – in my mind it’s a sort of Russian Gone With the Wind. I know it’s likely I’ll just take both, especially if I get them in digital format, but I still need to prioritize.
Very though one. I’ve been searching for classic or contemporary Mongolian authors but so far no luck. All I have are three possibilities which, although they sound interesting, are written by foreign authors about Mongolia and that’s not what I was going for:
Wolf Totem by Rong Jiang
China’s runaway bestseller and winner of the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize. Part period epic, part fable for modern days, Wolf Totem depicts the dying culture of the Mongols the ancestors of the Mongol hordes who at one time terrorized the world and the parallel extinction of the animal they believe to be sacred: the fierce and otherworldly Mongolian wolf. (from Goodreads)
I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Wilson
In early 14-century China, Oyuna tells her granddaughter of her girlhood in Mongolia and how love for her horse enabled her to win an important race and bring good luck to her family. (from Goodreads)
The Shadow Walker by Mike Walters
As winter falls upon the streets of Ulan Bataar, Mongolia, a serial killer is just getting warmed up. When the mutilated body of a fourth victim is found in one of the city’s most expensive hotels, Nergui, the former head of the Serious Crimes squad, is no closer to catching the killer and will accept any help he can get. (from Powell’s Books)
I’ve read Wild Sawns some years ago, and I must admit that my contact with Chinese literature is limited to the best-seller types such as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstresses and Amy Tan. I really enjoyed most of them, but they were all written by Chinese-Americans or Chinese-French, so I feel I’m not tapping the source directly. There’s also Pearl Buck, which I’ve been meaning to try for ages.
I browsed my local English bookshop and Goodreads’ lists and came up with three options, but they also unavoidably fall into the Chinese-Western category:
Waiting by Ha Jin
Lin Kong is a devoted doctor in love with a modern young woman – a nurse who is educated, clever, and vivid. The only complication is the wife to whom he was married when they were very young – a tiny woman, humble and touchingly loyal, whom he visits in order to ask, again and again, for divorce. (from Goodreads)
Once on a Moonless Night by Dai Sijie
When Puyi, the last emperor, was exiled to Manchuria in the early 1930s, it is said that he carried an eight-hundred-year-old silk scroll inscribed with a lost sutra composed by the Buddha. Eventually the scroll would be sold illicitly to an eccentric French linguist named Paul d’Ampere, in a transaction that would land him in prison, where he would devote his life to studying the ineffably beautiful ancient language of the forgotten text. Our unnamed narrator, a Western student in China in the 1970s, hears this story and pursues it. (from Goodreads)
Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
The setting is China’s Forbidden City in the last days of its imperial glory, a vast complex of palaces and gardens run by thousands of eunuchs and encircled by a wall in the center of Peking. In this highly ordered place – tradition-bound, ruled by strict etiquette, rife with political and erotic tension – the Emperor, The Son of Heaven, performs two duties: he must rule the court and conceive an heir. To achieve the latter, tradition provides a stupendous hierarchy of hundreds of wives and concubines. (from Goodreads) Anchee Min recently released a Pearl Buck biography which also caught my eye: “Pearl of China”.
The Big book
It’s decided: The Count of Monte-Cristo by Alexander Dumas
The Portuguese book
Although being my native language, ever since I’ve started comfortably reading in English I’ve read very few books in Portuguese. There are several reasons for this but the main ones are that I avoid translations as much as possible and I’ve always felt more drawn to Anglo-Saxon literature. This, mixed with my taste for historical fiction, led me the embarrassing point where I know more about British history than that of my own country.
The book in this category is also already chosen: 1808 by Laurentino Gomes. The book is about “How a mad Queen, a fearful Prince and a corrupt Court fooled Napoleon and changed the course of Portuguese and Brazilian history.” Basically, how our Court fled the country to escape Napoleon and established the first European capital outside Europe – for some years, the capital of Portugal was Rio de Janeiro. This also contributed to the development of Brazil into an integrated country, with a unique cultural and national identity, which eventually led to it’s independence soon after. Sounds promising and I’m looking forward to it.
To be decided. Maybe some fantasy.
Only one decided: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson read by Bill Bryson.
I still plan to browse around and talk to people about this list before finalizing it, but meanwhile, actually planning it it’s been one of the best parts of planning the whole trip. I’ll post the final list later in the month.