My Year in Books 2017

And another year is over. Dear readers, thank you very much for visiting my blog and reading my posts from all over the world! I wish you all the best for 2018!

And thank you to all the writers who made available their books for free and to those authors who sent me a copy of their works!

Thank you to who interviewed me and helped me promote my latest novel and thank you to the nice readers who reviewed it!

Here’s a recap of the reviews I have written this year:

  1. “What am I?” by Papatia Feauxzar
  2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories by Truman Capote
  3. Fixed Up! by Papatia Feauxzar
  4. Planet Police by Natalie Vellacott
  5. White Monkey by Carlos Hughes
  6. The Next Factory of the World: How Chinese Investment Is Reshaping Africa by Irene Yuan Sun
  7. Tears before Exaltation by Fidelis O. Mkparu
  8. Saddam City (I Am The One Who Saw) by Mahmoud Saeed
  9. A Portal in Space by Mahmoud Saeed

Now I’m reading The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, so please stay tuned! 🙂

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A Portal in Space by Mahmoud Saeed

A Portal in Space by Mahmoud Saeed was published in Arabic in 2012 and in English in 2015. The novel is mainly set in Basra, a port city in southern Iraq and in Baghdad, the country’s capital, while the events develop during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).

Basra is being bombed by Iran and Anwar wants a portal in space, so that he can escape to a world where he feels safe. He’s graduating as an architect in a few months, but he looks so childish while he’s resting on the sofa with his head on his mother’s lap.

Anwar and his family live in a military base. He’s twenty-two. Anwar’s father is a judge. He arrived in Basra as an attorney almost a quarter of a century before.

After his degree in architecture, Anwar falls in love with Abir. Anwar’s mother is a friend of Abir’s mother, so he hopes to marry her, but after three months of training, Anwar is ready to be sent to the front.

His sister Nur, who is two years younger than him, is still attending university. Anwar’s mother works instead in a school.

Anwar is missing. He has disappeared at the front after having been conscripted, like many other recent graduates.

Mundhir and his wife travel to Baghdad to inquire about their son. There they meet a woman in her forties and Mundhir is immediately attracted by her beauty.

The bare-headed woman comes from Amara. She wears a long black dress and high heels. Her fair skin is as white as milk and her hair is as black as coal. Moreover she has a thin body. Her nose is straight while her lips are naturally rose-red.

After Anwar’s disappearance, his mother is always in a bad mood and Mundhir is annoyed by her reaction. He starts to travel to Baghdad alone. His wife is weak, has lost a lot of weight and doesn’t want to go with him. After six months of weekly trips nothing has changed. Anwar isn’t in any list, but Mundhir meets the beautiful lady again. Her husband was a high-ranking official and died during the war against Iran, but she wants to know what happened to her husband’s brother who is still missing.

Mundhir complains about her wife. Before losing Anwar she was obedient and responsive, but now she keeps screaming and weeping. The beautiful lady suggests to leave her, but Mundhir doesn’t want to ruin his twenty-year-old daughter’s life, even if she’s already living like in hell with her mother who forbids her to laugh, watch TV or listen to music.

The beautiful lady’s husband worked for a bank, but during the last ten years he devoted himself to Saddam’s party. He was blond and blue-eyed. She was madly in love with him, but that feeling died in less than a year and after that she just shared his ambitions.

The woman tells that she is trying to write a novel and Mundhir admits that he’s also writing a book, even if about his most important cases. Zahra teaches Arabic, but she doesn’t know how to begin her novel.

Mundhir and Zahra spend the day eating in a restaurant and visiting a fortuneteller who immediately understands their mutual feelings. On their way back home, Zahra openly declares her love and they kiss each other.

Zahra tells Mundhir that she saw him for the first time three years before. Even if she was with her husband, she immediately fell in love with the judge Mundhir.

When they arrive in Amara, Zahra asks Mundhir to leave her near the post office and to meet her there the following week.

My opinion? A woman who tries to seduce a married man is a whore and an unfaithful husband is a fucking bastard.

Anwar’s mother is suffering for her missing son, but her husband is annoyed by her reaction and instead of helping her in such a difficult moment, he relieves his pain with another woman!

Zahra already sees herself as Mundhir’s new wife. She wants to marry him.

During their second meeting, Mundhir and Zahra share a hotel room, but she tells the man she’ll have sex with him only after their marriage. She says she’s a pious woman and when he comes out from the bathroom, he finds her praying with her head covered. Hmm, a pious woman shouldn’t be having a relationship with a married man at all; just avoiding sexual intercourse isn’t enough. The truth is that she wants to arouse him to dominate his will.

Zahra kisses and touches Mundhir, but she allows neither nudity nor sex. She has two children: Lubna who is fourteen and Mahdi who is six years old.

One more year and also Nur will graduate. After that, she’ll move to Baghdad to work for a newspaper. Her mother is so embittered that she told her she would have preferred losing her than her brother, her favorite and spoiled child. My thinking? People shouldn’t have more than one child if they can’t share their love fairly among them.

Six months after his retirement, Mundhir is asked to go back to work because many judges don’t want to work in Basra anymore because of the daily bombings.

Zahra is suddenly obliged to stop her travels to Baghdad, since a party official told her mother-in-law that she hadn’t traveled in a taxi.

The months go by and the two lovers can just speak on the phone. In the meanwhile Nur finishes her studies and the following day she leaves for Baghdad. Adil, one of her brother’s friends, asked to marry her and she loves him. He will be a resident physician in al-Falluja.

Mundhir continues to travel to Baghdad once a week to read the new lists of prisoners and to visit his daughter.

Two years and a half after their last meeting, Zahra pays a visit to Mundhir while he’s still in his office. Their lengthy telephone conversations had become suspicious; this is why she stopped calling him. Her missing late husband’s brother has come back home and wants her to give him all her money, but Zahra doesn’t agree, so both him and his mother are trying to convince her to marry him. This is why Zahra hopes Mundhir will marry her instead, even though his wife has just recovered from an attempted suicide. Mundhir’s wife has finally stopped smoking and now lets her husband watch TV again. He’s also free to listen to music, drink and laugh as he did before Anwar’s disappearance.

Mundhir and Zahra still love each other, but Mundhir knows that his wife would kill herself or go insane again, if he marries a second wife. His daughter and her husband would also be furious.

Zahra is disappointed and goes back to the city where she lives, but she doesn’t give up because she never accepts defeat.

No! This means that the evil temptress will attack again and the sinner Mundhir will succumb! I’m so sad for his poor wife! She didn’t deserve an unfaithful husband.

Mundhir should avoid meeting Zahra again, especially if alone with her, otherwise he’ll surely succumb to the temptation of her flesh.

Zahra is a really dangerous creature. She would do anything to fulfill her immoral desires. I believe she could even tell Mundhir’s wife about her relationship with her husband. Mundhir’s wife was jealous of Zahra from the beginning and she was right. If Mundhir’s wife commits suicide or she’s otherwise killed, the vulnerable judge will marry Zahra to quench his lustful thirst.

But maybe Zahra’s greedy brother-in-law could send someone to kill her first and Mundhir and his wife could finally be a happy couple again. Wait, even better: Mundhir’s wife, after discovering her husband’s unfaithfulness, should leave him alone crying over Zahra’s tomb and find a more deserving man for herself.

Date palms plantations, swamps and the banks of the Tigris. I really enjoyed the descriptions of several varieties of Iraqi landscapes, really different from the sad monotony of brown desert dust and grey ruins of bombed cement buildings we’re used to see on TV.

It was also interesting to read the depictions of the different physical features of the Iraqi population with white, fair-skinned and brown people, as well as their different attires in the 1980s ranging from a bare-headed woman wearing jeans to older ladies whose black abayas hid everything except their faces.

This time the English translation is excellent. It flows so naturally that it doesn’t even look like a translated text. I advise the author to always choose a high-quality translator like the one of this novel. I highly recommend this book!

P.S. I have received a paperback copy from the author.


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Saddam City (I Am The One Who Saw) by Mahmoud Saeed

Mahmoud Saeed was born in Mosul, Iraq in the late 1930s, but after being imprisoned six times for political reasons between 1963 and 1980, in 1985 he finally succeeded to emigrate to the United Arab Emirates. Since 1999, he has been living as a political refugee in the United States.

The novel I Am The One Who Saw was originally written in Arabic in 1981 and published for the first time in Syria in 1995. It was later published in English as Saddam City by Saqi Books in 2004 and in Italian by Edizioni Spartaco in 2005 with the same title of the English edition.

Saeed’s books were censored and banned for their political content. Nobody could disagree with the government. Reading Saddam City prompted me to look for more information about the historical background. Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire, but after World War I, the United Kingdom established a pro-British regime ruled by a dynasty of Saudi kings. This monarchy lasted from 1921 to 1958, until an Iraqi nationalist coup d’état. The dictator Saddam Hussein was born in 1937. He was a leading member of the Ba’ath Party, founded in 1947 and inspired by a mix of Arab nationalism and socialism. Saddam joined the Ba’ath Party in 1957 and played an important role in the 1968 coup that brought it to power in Iraq. He was Vice President of Iraq from 1968 to 1979 and then the absolute leader of the country from 1979 to 2003. Saddam was executed in 2006.

I was born in 1983, so the first time I heard about Iraq was during the First Gulf War (1990-1991). I still remember the black and green images of night bombings shown on TV and one of my primary school teachers asking us for newspaper pictures about the war. She thought that every kid had parents who read newspapers, but mine were too busy with their jobs to read them, so my mother bought one just to allow me to cut and bring some pictures to my teacher.

The novel Saddam City starts on the first Monday of the year. A note says that the novel is set in 1979. The narrator is released after 15 months, but in the meanwhile the Iran-Iraq war has begun (22 September 1980), so there’s something wrong! Maybe the note?

Mustafa Ali Noman is the main character and first-person narrator. He has a teaching job, a wife and two school-age children, a son and a daughter, but one day his routine is tragically disrupted by two agents who are waiting for him on his workplace. They think his real identity is Mustafa Ali Othman and for this reason he’s taken to the Security Headquarters for an interrogation. After arriving to the Security Headquarters, Mustafa is blindfolded and handcuffed. He’s slapped in the face and his right eye starts to bleed. Mustafa Ali Othman has supposedly spent several years in the northern Kurdish-speaking part of Iraq and has traveled extensively abroad. Maybe Mustafa has been mistaken for a supporter of the Kurdish rebels who fight for their independence.

Mustafa Ali Noman hates the Ba’ath Party and his wife has been accused of having Iranian ancestry, but he only occasionally talks about politics with his friends. He knows that it’s risky to utter even a single word in a society full of amateur spies.

Saddam City made me think about the book “La frontera extraviada” (The Lost Frontier) written by the Chilean Luis Sepúlveda, the Argentinian desaparecidos and the people spied by the Stasi, the official state security service of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in the novels I read for a German literature exam.

Saddam City allows the reader to witness the mass wave of arrests, torture and assassinations for political reasons in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

The day after his arrest, Mustafa is obliged to board a truck because Basra is already full of prisoners. The truck stops in Baghdad.

A few months before being arrested, two agents had visited Mustafa’s house to oblige him to become a member of the Ba’ath party.

During his detention, Mustafa Ali Noman meets several other prisoners, but I found two stories particularly scary. The first was that of a man executed because his little daughter had been asked at school if her father loved Saddam and she answered that he spat every time he saw Saddam on TV. The second deals instead with some prisoners who lost their hair and went insane after mysterious injections. I was reading in bed and I couldn’t sleep well that night.

In Sulaymaniyah, Mustafa Ali is interrogated again. He is accused of being linked to the Peshmerga guerrillas, military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan. He is tortured with electrical cables. The torturers show him a picture taken fifteen years before. Mustafa was playing poker in a casino and standing behind him there was a wanted man called Amr Abbas, but the truth was that he didn’t know him.

The officers finally realize that there has been a mistake about Mustafa Ali’s name. They decide to release him, but he must heal completely before being allowed to go home after fifteen months spent in several jails across Iraq. The protagonist case is an example of mistaken identity and it is possible that the photograph showed to him has been modified to cover the mistake.

Mahmoud Saeed was so kind to send me a paperback copy of the Italian edition, but I also bought the ebook version in English. I read both. It was the first time that I read the same novel in two different languages and it was interesting for a translator like me to compare the two editions. I usually prefer to read a book in the original language, but in this case it wasn’t possible since I don’t speak Arabic and I must admit that I was really surprised to see that the Italian text (even if it had been translated from English and not from the original Arabic novel) was better than the English one! The latter is indeed full of grammar and spelling mistakes, maybe due to the fact that the translator isn’t an English native speaker. It was really a pity to find errors like “Lets (Let’s) leave the rest to him”, “May be (Maybe) they intended to inquire”, “several time(s)”, “the sort kind of mistake” instead of “the same kind of mistake” and “May be (Maybe) they would contact the school”. “Maybe” meaning “perhaps” is systematically wrongly spelled as “may be” throughout the novel! Then there are also mistakes like “confusion about may (my) name”, “like (al)most everybody”, “he is a looser (loser)”, “coup de tate” instead of “coup d’état”, “In those days I used to buy a few bears (beers) from the black market”, “to by (buy) cigarettes”, “a peace of meet” instead of “a piece of meat” and “an easy pray (prey) for their traps”. This novel deserves a better English translation. It also lacks consistency: it isn’t acceptable to find the characters’ names written in two or even three different ways (ex. Mustafa Ali Noman/Mustafa Ali Nomaan, Mustafa Ali Othman/Mustafa Ali Ottoman, Javaad/Javad, Hossein/Hussein, Abu-Wael/Abu Wael/Abu Waeel). It was as painful as when I had to translate English manuals written by some Chinese native speakers or when I had to correct the exams of many of my English students.

As I said above, the Italian translation is better than the English one, but isn’t perfect. In this case, the biggest mistake is surely the word “yashmagh” (headdress worn by Arabs, also called keffiyeh) that becomes “yashmak” (a Turkish type of veil or niqab worn by some Muslim women to cover their faces in public).

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L’Anima Rubata GRATIS su Amazon fino a venerdì 29 settembre!

L’Anima Rubata GRATIS su Amazon! Nuova imperdibile occasione fino a venerdì 29 settembre! Ecco il link:

E ricordatevi anche di partecipare al GIVEAWAY su Goodreads per vincere una copia cartacea del libro:

Un impietoso sguardo sul mondo della scuola e della società italiana, visto attraverso gli occhi della trentenne Valeria, supplente e traduttrice cinica e politicamente scorretta. Madre di un bambino e sposata con un messicano, Valeria si rifugia nel mondo dei blog letterari, cercando di promuovere i suoi romanzi, salvo incontrare nuove invidie e vipere virtuali. Riuscirà a sopravvivere alle crisi di nervi?


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Tears before Exaltation by Fidelis O. Mkparu


To be published in March 2018 by Harvard Square Editions

Knoxville, Tennessee. Benjamin Ava is the main character and first-person narrator. He works in a hospital. There he sees a skinny woman with blue eyes who reminds him of someone he knows, but with a fuller face. Brenda Galant was a beautiful girl from his first year of medical school. He is worried for Brenda, since she has lost much weight in just three months. Ben and Brenda are 23 years old. They are both third-year medical students.

Ben is spending the summer working. He has just finished his second year of medical school and he needs two jobs to survive because he can’t work during the academic year. He works as an emergency room assistant, or orderly, and in a library. He lives in a university apartment and has just been selected for a scholarship. He has to move to Memphis (still in Tennessee, but far away from Knoxville). He owns a car, but he has to leave his two jobs and his girlfriend.

Ben’s mother was an only child and so was his father. She had a stroke and he died three months after her. Ben’s girlfriend is a surgery resident. Deborah Linger is very disappointed. After two years with Ben, she doesn’t want a long-distance relationship. Since she’s almost thirty years old, her priority is having children before it’s too late.

When Ben arrives in Memphis, he finds out that also Brenda has just been sent there. Brenda gets soon drunk and phones Ben because she wants him to drive her to her room, but when they arrive there she follows him into the shower, situated in the common area. Ben is scared by the situation. He doesn’t want to be falsely accused of having sex with a drunken woman, so he finally accompanies the girl into her room. Brenda is a hideous character. An instable and dangerous woman, but also Ben is to be blamed because he’s too weak. He’s paranoid and incapable of staying away from Brenda.

Moreover Ben is unfair because he thinks that a cross, a rosary and holy water are religious paraphernalia when he sees them next to an elderly female patient, but he gets angry when he watches people on TV demonstrating in front of a mosque, because they don’t want that kind of believers in America and eagerly greets a patient in Arabic when he hears that his surname is Hassan and sees him praying. One religion deserves contempt and the other respect. I felt deeply offended.

Brenda is such an ungrateful slut that she thinks that Ben abused her while she was drunk. She flirted with a married man and got drunk, he went home with his wife, she called Ben in the dead of night because she wanted him to go for her and now she’s accusing him of sexual assault! She’s completely crazy! Despite this, Brenda asks him to let her in because she’s scared by wind and hail. Ben reluctantly accepts, but when he receives a call from Deb, Brenda yells that she’ll take a shower. Deb is obviously furious, but soon after this unpleasant episode, Ben meets an attractive nurse and he starts dating her.

Ben has only his scholarship. Fifteen thousand dollars a year and a free tuition. Didn’t he inherit anything from his parents? Moreover, there are too many women in his life. They are the source of all his problems. For example, when Brenda cuts her wrist and Ben calls an ambulance she says she will accuse him of trying to kill her! Then Deb calls Ben to tell him she has a lump in her breast and that she’s having a biopsy. She needs him and his new girlfriend Rita gets angry. Of course, Ben goes back to Knoxville to support Deb but she’s with Mike, her new boyfriend. Why did she call him then? Vengeance?

Ben is such a fool! Dr Trophy says that he hates losers looking for attention with fake suicide attempts and Brenda starts crying because she knows he’s hinting at her. And what does Ben do? He reacts defending such an undeserving witch like Brenda! The result? He’s suspended. What did you expect, idiot? Ben is forced to move out of his dorm room. He’s just become homeless in Memphis. Fortunately for him, his suspension and homelessness are over after just two days. Dr Haber will be his new supervisor and Rita forgives him.

Anyway, Ben hasn’t learned his lesson yet. He is having sex with Rita and what does he do? He stops it all because he hears Brenda crying! He wants to help her! Why isn’t he able to mind his own business? Brenda. The aggressive anorexic girl with depression and suicidal tendencies. Brenda’s reaction: she destroys Ben shirt and scratches his face. It’s Rita who pushes her away. Ben doesn’t move!

When Brenda is finally admitted in a mental hospital, Ben goes to visit her. Three years before, Brenda had asked Ben to have lunch together, but he turned her down. He had no money and he didn’t want a woman to pay for him. At that time Brenda hoped that they could be more than just friends, but Ben didn’t realize it. This is why she hates him. Brenda has nightmares and anxiety attacks. She feels depressed. Doctors say she’s bipolar. Her father abused her when she was ten.

Now Ben wants to convince Rita to join him in supporting Brenda. Rita doesn’t care for her, but Ben insists that she needs friends. What a pity that he has forgotten that friendship, like love, should be a mutual and sincere feeling and not an arranged one.

After Brenda is dismissed from the hospital, Ben invites her to eat with him every day, so that he can monitor her weight loss problems. But Rita will be furious! She doesn’t deserve to share Ben’s company with another woman.

Brenda goes back to work and when the surgery resident Dr Green flirts with her she’s so happy that she hugs Ben. Rita sees them and she thinks they’re having an affair. This is why she stops seeing Ben. Brenda gains some weight and Ben starts admiring her buttocks, but now she’s interested only in Dr Green.

Ben he’s convinced he didn’t do anything wrong and that Rita left him twice over minor misunderstandings (involving Deb and Brenda). He repeatedly acted like a fool and he still thinks he’s right! He’s really a desperate case! Fortunately for him, Brenda explains to Rita that they’re just friends and she forgives him.

Brenda is accepted by the surgery team. She feels comfortable with scalpels and sutures, but Ben is interested in talking and comforting people. Rita reveals that she was also abused by her father. He began when she was 12. Another incest?!

After completing his fourth year and his graduation from medical school, Ben is going to move back to Knoxville for a residency in internal medicine and psychiatry. He leaves a note to invite Deb to his graduation. Incredible, but true: she accepts! Deb is going to marry soon and Ben proposes to Rita. Also Brenda and Paul are moving to Knoxville.

Is this the happy end? Poor Rita! I don’t believe in real friendship between a woman and a man. At least one of them will always have a dangerous sexual interest. Not the ideal situation for jealous partners of such “friendly” people. Does Ben really want to become a psychiatrist?! But he’s a paranoid, insecure, impulsive and depressed man who has been ruining his own life for most of the book! I’m perplexed!

Tears before Exaltation is an engaging story that won’t leave you indifferent, a page-turner that will keep you reading eagerly until the end. I anyway recommend this book to selfless, optimistic and not jealous people who won’t be affected by Ben’s paranoia and often irresponsible behavior and Brenda’s self-destructive depression.

As for the cover, instead of the nightmarish crying face that made me think of a horror movie, I would have preferred a painting with a grey sky with heavy rain and a rainbow: Tears before Exaltation.

If Ben hadn’t been after his humanitarian mission of saving Brenda, he wouldn’t have lost the chance of winning Deb back, he wouldn’t have been suspended from medical school and he wouldn’t have risked losing his new girlfriend Rita forever.

Ben’s taking care of too many women reminded me of my former boyfriend and that was one of the reasons that led me to the decision of breaking with him. After four years and seven months. Because such men will never change and they will always find new “friends” to help. This happened so many years ago, in 2005, when I was still a 22-year-old college student.

I received a free digital copy from the author in exchange for an early feedback and I would like to thank him for such a privilege. As for you, my dear readers, I invite you to check also Fidelis O. Mkparu’s previous novel, the wonderful Love’s Affliction.

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The Next Factory of the World: How Chinese Investment Is Reshaping Africa by Irene Yuan Sun


This is my first NetGalley review and I’m really excited about it! This website gives you the chance to apply for reading ebooks for free before they are published so that publishers and authors can receive early feedbacks. I applied for The Next Factory of the World: How Chinese Investment Is Reshaping Africa by Irene Yuan Sun and I was really delighted to find out that my request had been accepted!

I chose this book because I had already heard about Chinese investments in Africa and I wanted to know more about this challenging topic.

Irene Yuan Sun was born in China and raised in the United States. She studied at Harvard and spent some time working in Africa.

The Next Factory of the World deals with the stories of several private Chinese entrepreneurs in Africa, industrialization in that continent and the role played by China.

The author was born in China and lived there until she was six. At that time, cars were not so common in her country as in America. She was more familiar with buses and bicycles. In the early 1990s, almost nobody had a car in China. The author’s hometown is Changchun, near the frontier with eastern Russia. In 1991 she sat in a car for the first time. It belonged to a family friend who was a government official. Chinese streets were full of bicycles in the early 1990s, but now are full of cars (and pollution). The author proudly announces that 750 million people were lifted out of poverty.

Irene Yuan Sun grew up in the United States and after college she went to teach in Namibia, in southwestern Africa. She was a volunteer teacher and her subjects were math and English. Her pupils were the children of subsistence farmers. In Namibia she met a self-made Chinese man who was looking for a wife, but most Chinese women didn’t want to live in Africa. He tried to impress the author, but she realized that, despite being rich, he was illiterate. Why didn’t he want to marry an African woman? Why do Chinese people usually marry within their own community? Why don’t they want to mix with the locals?

The author visited more than fifty Chinese factories in Africa. She thinks that Chinese factories in Africa will create prosperity for Africans. Seriously? Chinese factories in Italy only use Chinese workforce and in Chinese stores here you can see mostly Chinese employees with sometimes the addition of Romanian women and Bangladeshi men. No jobs for the locals. No jobs for Italians. My husband, who is Mexican, thinks that this happens because only immigrants are willing to accept the low wages offered by Chinese employers, but I don’t know if they even tried to hire Italian workers. It looks like “foreigners united against the natives”.

According to Irene Yuan Sun, China is the current factory of the world while Africa will be the next one. Chinese factories in Africa produce either for the local markets or to export their goods, taking advantage of African low labor costs.

The author believes that factories bring prosperity, as it happened with the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain in the eighteenth century, in America in the nineteenth century, in Japan and other Asian countries in the twentieth century. At least she admits that many factory bosses in Africa are racist, pay bribes, drink to excess and frequent prostitutes. Moreover their factories pollute air and water, like we can see in nowadays China. However, in the previous examples of industrialization, the factory owners belonged to the same country they were contributing to develop. Are we sure that the same development will follow in Africa, if the factory bosses are Chinese and not Africans?

The book focuses on four African countries: Nigeria, Lesotho, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Nigeria has the largest population and the largest economy of the continent. Lesotho is instead completely surrounded by South Africa. Kenya is the principal economy of East Africa and Ethiopia… It isn’t true that Ethiopia was never colonized by a European power! Even if for a short period (1936-1941), it was an Italian colony! A shameful past for Italy, but history can’t be hidden.

According to Irene Yuan Sun, donors and global aid organizations won’t solve the poverty problem in Africa, but factories with their employment opportunities can do it. First example: Mr. Sun owns a factory that produces ceramic tiles in Nigeria. He’s only an elementary school graduate and he started working when he was just 13 years old. Chinese factories owners accumulated their know-how working for Taiwanese factory owners, who in turn had learned from Japanese ones.

Mr. Sun comes from Wenzhou, a midsize city in southeastern China. He dropped out of school when he was thirteen and started working in factories. He worked long hours, saved money and finally opened his own factory. Nice story, but not everybody can become a factory boss, otherwise who’s going to do all the menial jobs? The sad reality is that rich individuals can exist only if there are many poor people. Mr. Sun manufactured leather goods in China, but in the late 2000s costs were rising. He needed to move his factory abroad. He considered Bangladesh and Uzbekistan, then a friend told him about Nigeria.

When Mr. Sun visited Nigeria for the first time, he immediately saw a lot of beggars asking for money, but he then realized that there were also a lot of rich people. He found out that ceramics were the heaviest products that China exported in large quantities to Nigeria, so he decided to open a ceramic tile factory in the country. He invested almost 40 million dollars and he employed nearly 1,100 workers, a thousand of whom are locals. I liked this point: employing the locals. Everybody should follow this example.

The author then attends a lunch in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho. Location: a Chinese restaurant. There she meets some Chinese businessmen. They started their career working for Taiwanese firms with businesses in Lesotho. At that time, in the late 1980s and 1990s, it was common for Taiwanese firms in need of cheap labor to use labor agencies to find young Chinese workers. They spoke neither English nor Sesotho, the local language. In the 1990s there were no cell phones and no internet. They could call home just once a year, because they didn’t have enough money. After years of hard work, some of them started factories while others ran small shops.

A wave of Japanese entrepreneurs generated a wave of Taiwanese entrepreneurs that generated a wave of Chinese ones. This is why the author thinks that the next wave can be African.

The author was born in Changchun, a provincial capital of two million people in Manchuria, between Russia and North Korea. In the late 1980s her father spent a year in Japan for a postdoctoral fellowship. The author, who was just two years old, stayed in China with her mother. At that time nobody owned a refrigerator and very few people had a television. As for industrialization in Asia, Japan was the first country, then followed by Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. In the early 1980s, China was poorer than Ethiopia and Mali.

It was interesting to find out that the first Chinese entrepreneurs arrived in Nigeria in the 1960s and 1970s. After its independence, the country had a thriving textile sector, but it collapsed when Nigeria started to export oil. Another engaging story is that of the flip-flop factory owned by the Lees in Nigeria: they produce huge quantities of cheap flip-flops whose retail price is just about a dollar a pair. This is possible because the models are very few. These products are destined to poor consumers who can’t afford to pay more and are sold in Nigeria and other West African countries. Their price is so low that nobody tries to import smuggled flip-flops.

The author’s mother is from Shanghai and her surname is Shen like that of the next factory owner we meet. The author’s father is instead a northerner. In Lesotho, a Chinese-owned factory produces Reebok T-shirts for American consumers. The workers are locals. Incredible but true: clothing production is not very automated because the product designs change every season, so it would be too expensive to change the machines to automate the job every few months. It’s better having many workers and sewing machines. In Lesotho, a large number of factory owners are foreigners, but the workers are mostly locals because wages are modest.

Factories in Lesotho export their products while Nigerian ones mainly produce for the internal market. This happens because Lesotho is a small country with a small population, but it’s near the excellent South African transport infrastructure. On the other hand Nigeria has a large population and bad roads.

Sad but true: it’s easier to pollute in Nigeria than in China because it’s legal. Government wants to attract foreign investors, so outdated machinery can be shipped from China to Nigeria. Moreover several Chinese businessmen use money to bribe government officials.

The author interviews also a Nigerian man who tells that Chinese-owned factories usually don’t meet safety standards. Moreover, you can’t ask questions, you can’t make phone calls and you have to work for twelve hours without talking. The author thinks that factories will bring full employment in Africa, but I believe she’s too optimistic.

Several Chinese factory owners think that Africans are lazy and this is why they fire a lot of them. They expect to be paid even if they don’t show up on time or they don’t go to work every day. The fact is that Chinese bosses are used to manage people from their own country who are more productive than the new African class of factory workers.

In Addis Ababa, the author finds out that a Chinese restaurant owner has married a local woman who works as a waitress in his restaurant and they have a curly-haired son. A nice example of mixed family! Other interesting pieces of information: in Lesotho women were used to live on remittances from their husbands working in South Africans mines, but now many of them are working in factories where the majority of workers are women. In Kenya, the manufacturing sector is instead dominated by East Africans of Indian descent. Intermarriage between this community and the locals is still rare, despite a century of living in the country. In West Africa, the same happens with the Lebanese community and its resistance to integration. The author hopes that Chinese people in Africa will follow a different path.

Other interesting opinions from the author: African countries should develop their own pharmaceutical factories because there is a limit to what outsiders can be expected to do. A generation ago, China was poorer than many African countries, but the government offered cheap land and tax incentives to establish pharmaceutical firms. Developing countries like China are more willing to invest in other developing countries like Ethiopia because few people from the developed world would work there without seeing their families for a year, living in a mud-field while building factories in inhospitable places.


Chinese population is ageing, labor costs are rising in China and Chinese economic growth is now slower than in the past three decades. This is why Chinese companies are investing and relocating their factories abroad, in places like Africa where the population is burgeoning and workers can be paid less than in China.

What I liked most: Chinese entrepreneurs interviewed by the author frankly admit that they’re investing in Africa for profit. If their moves have also positive effects on Africans that’s fine, but that’s not their main purpose. On the other hand, Western NGOs present themselves as pure altruism, but skeptical people don’t believe in fairy tales.

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White Monkey by Carlos Hughes


The novel White Monkey by Carlos Hughes was published in 2016. The author was born in England in 1972 and he has taught in China, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. It was thanks to Goodreads that I discovered this book. I didn’t win the giveaways organized by the author, but I downloaded the ebook for free during an Amazon promotion. Having worked as an English teacher with a striking majority of undisciplined students in my home country and as a native Italian teacher with wonderful students in Austria and Mexico, I absolutely wanted to read this novel and I’m really satisfied about it.

The main character is Darren Finnegan. He was born in 1985 and he comes from an English town called Wigan, between Liverpool and Manchester. Three of his grandparents were Irish and his maternal grandmother was Welsh and he has the typical appearance of an Irishman: pale skin and red hair. Despite this he feels very British.

Darren is an only child and his father wants him to start working with him as soon as he leaves school, but Darren has no intention of emptying bins for the rest of his life, so he goes to Huddersfield to study sociology, even if his father thinks that having a degree is a waste of time, since all the good jobs go to ethnic minorities, homosexuals and the disabled. He can offer him a stable job.

Rachel is Darren’s first girlfriend. When they meet, they are both 18 and spend three happy years together with summer holidays in the South of France, Crete and Vienna. However, after the final exams, Darren receives a note from Rachel and that is the end of their story.

Darren goes back to Wigan and he realizes that his degree in sociology is completely useless. He’s offered only call centre jobs. Then he reads that Korean schools are looking for English teachers. Good salary, free apartment and flight paid for. Darren needs to grab an atlas to find out that Korea is in Asia, near China. So geographically ignorant?! Unfortunately I have met many people like him.

Darren has found out that his former girlfriend Rachel has moved to Korea with Luke, one of Darren’s friends, so he now wants to go there to win her back. Darren has made up his mind: he’s going to teach English in Korea, even if his father thinks that all Asians look the same, with the same black hair and the same face.

Flight to Seoul from Manchester: 10 hours. Darren has flown only twice before and not so far away, having visited Crete and Dublin. Darren signs a 12-month contract as a teacher in Korea, but he would be happier working in an office in Wigan.

Mr Kim, the school owner, speaks English, but he’s very unfriendly. He doesn’t like white men because he believes they just want to sleep with Korean women. He prefers to hire American female teachers because he thinks teaching is not a real man’s job. Moreover, he doesn’t like the sound of British English. With all his prejudices, Mr Kim is the Korean version of Darren’s father.

The other foreign English teachers are Billy from Ulster who has a Korean girlfriend, the American Natalie with an East Asian Studies major and the Canadian Kevin who is 46 and wants to have sex with a 19-year-old girl. Koreans learn English because they love America, so Mr Kim wants them to lie and tell new students and their parents that they all come from the USA.

In Darren’s first class there are 13 children aged 8 or 9. They run, scream, laugh and throw pens. Darren tries to take charge but to no avail. This is how he realizes that it isn’t true that all Oriental kids love studying.

The American Natalie is also very geographically ignorant and thinks that Yorkshire is a town! Anyway she also has a useful tip for Darren, that is using stickers and sweets to bribe his students so that they behave better.

I was shocked to learn that Korean students have a disgusting pastime called dong chim. They form a gun with their hands and try to insert their fingers in the victim’s anus. Teachers can also be their victims, because they know they can’t be punished. It’s appalling, but unfortunately ill-behaved students are untouchable in Italy too.

After being victim of this stupid play for several times, Billy is very angry and he reacts insulting and shaking his assailant. Mr Kim is furious and Billy quits the job. Kevin is sure he will find another soon. He thinks life in Korea is addictive: part-time hours, full-time wages and living rent-free. Kevin has already spent several years in Korea and has no intention of going back to Newfoundland to work on a fishing boat in the middle of the Atlantic. This is why he doesn’t care about dong chim.

Mr Kim’s ideal teachers are white American women, preferably young and good-looking, but they are hard to find because his school isn’t in Seoul. Darren and Natalie visit the capital every weekend. It takes an hour to get there by bus. Natalie hates Kevin because he uses offensive nicknames for his Korean colleagues. Moreover he likes teenage girls and can’t speak Korean. Natalie took a Korean language module as part of her degree, but she didn’t learn very much.

Darren is shocked when he realizes that Mr Kim admires Hitler, but Kevin tells him that Korea has different rules. Political correctness doesn’t work in the same way there and many people think Hitler was a great leader. Darren can’t report him as he could have done in England.

During a weekend in Seoul, Darren sees Rachel and Luke who are arguing, but he decides to walk away with Natalie who in the meantime has become his girlfriend.

Darren works 22 hours a week in a small town among the cabbage fields between Seoul and Daejeon. The locals want to touch his ginger hair and take pictures of him. His red head is a rarity in a sea of black hair.

After giving English classes to children, Darren has the opportunity to test his teaching skills with teenage students, but they are ignorant too. They don’ know that the English language originated in England and they have never heard of Shakespeare and Dickens.

Joe, the new fat American teacher obliges his students to stand up for the entire lesson because if they’re tired they keep quiet. The do-gooder Natalie thinks that’s child abuse and she complains with Kevin who however isn’t worried for a bunch of bad-behaved kids.

Joe, who is in his 40s like Kevin, likes katoeys, that is ladyboys. Natalie is furious because she thinks that he’s exploiting poor people. Darren has a sociology degree, but he doesn’t care about racism, sexism, homophobia and global poverty as the communist Western feminist Natalie does. She’s still thinking about her former boyfriend Kurt. She’s already regretting her decision of leaving him to see the world.

One day Joe punches a student whose nickname is Gordon in his face after being his dong chim victim and he breaks his nose. The child is taken to the local hospital. Mr Kim says teachers should accept dong chim as part of Korean culture. They shouldn’t see it as a sexual assault! Joe gives up his job and Gordon becomes the new hero among students. Darren is attacked by his dong chim for the second time and takes him to Mr Kim, but the school owner refuses to punish the student and gets angry at Darren instead!

Darren’s revenge: laxative chocolate cupcakes. Gordon is the fattest student and eats more cupcakes than any of his classmates. Darren has mixed the laxative cupcakes with normal ones. After that day, Gordon’s parents remove him from the school.

Natalie admits she’s dating Darren just because he’s one of the few available white men in town, but after getting used to Korean food, he’s gaining weight and Mr Kim tells him that he can’t control his classes because he’s fat. For this reason, he wants Darren to start going to the gym with him three times a week after work, but Mr Kim runs away from the gym after seeing Ayize, his former black teacher from South Africa. The Korean school owner thinks Ayize is a witch doctor, while the truth is that the black man is a doctor of linguistics who speaks five languages. He arrived in Korea to work as a professor of African languages in Seoul, but then he married a Korean woman and they had a daughter. His wife brought him back to her hometown and after being fired by Mr Kim, he has found a job as a high school teacher.

Darren receives an e-mail from his university friend Asif who would like to start working with him, but when Mr Kim sees Asif’s CV he immediately tells Darren that he won’t hire any teacher who looks like Osama bin Laden. Korean parents don’t like dark-skinned teachers. Moreover Asif has no English name, even if he’s a British citizen like Darren. Asif has a degree in business studies.

Darren decides to go and watch a cricket game in an Australian bar, but Odin, an Australian teacher working in another school in town, begins to insult both him and Natalie. Darren reacts, but he’s beaten by Odin’s friend, a giant Australian guy of Croatian descent whose name is Igor. Natalie gets angry and leaves Darren alone. This is the end of their relationship. The students laugh at Darren’s black eyes and keep telling him he looks like a panda and their mocking behaviour last for ten days, until Darren tightly ties the bendy pencil of one of his most insolent eight-year-old students.

Some days before Christmas, Darren is obliged by Mr Kim to put on a Santa costume to help him with his school advertising in town. Without realising it, six months earlier Darren signed a contract written in Korean where there is written that teachers have to do such things, if they don’t want to lose their job. Three days before Christmas, Natalie quits her job and goes back to the States. It’s Kevin who informs Darren.

The Korean teacher Mi Hyun visits Darren on Christmas. They eat and watch Titanic together. Nice surprise for him. People scream and laugh at Darren in the streets. Koreans find him amusing like a monkey in a zoo. Fortunately, Mi Hyun keeps visiting Darren and they become a couple after spending a night together. She is 23. Despite his dislike for Asians, Darren’s dad is happy because this time his son has a thin girlfriend.

Anyway the happy end is not near yet. Maureen is the new Australian teacher. Her features: fat, around 30 years old, blonde hair and a red spotty face. She has a degree in education and a great experience teaching abroad. Maureen tells Darren he can’t teach and that his students are bored by his classes. Maureen knows how to teach English and she shares tips with Darren.

Darren wasn’t interested in Asian women before moving to Korea, because Wigan was mostly populated by white people. Maureen instead thinks that Korean women are only interested in their physical appearance. She doesn’t like Korean men because their masculine attributes are smaller than her vibrator. Mi Hyun is not bothered by her words and she isn’t even convinced that Maureen is a woman because she’s ugly.

Darren celebrates his 22nd birthday in Korea and Jung Won, the other Korean teacher, has a special birthday present for him: he attacks Igor when he’s drunk. He’s in love with Natalie and believes that she left because of him. He isn’t worried because his father is the chief of the police and in Korea foreigners always lose against Koreans.

Darren saves a nice sum of money every month, but he doesn’t want to buy a laptop, so he goes to an Internet café, even if also his students and a retarded boy go there. The latter is around 18 years old and very strong. He hits Darren every time, but he can’t hit him back because he’s a teacher, so his revenge is shaking his Pepsi bottle while he’s away and restarting the computer, so that he loses his video game score.

After being promoted to teacher co-ordinator, Maureen orders Darren to go to her house for a job meeting after work. Darren is worried and his fears come true when a half-naked Maureen invites him to be the recipient of anal sex. She would like to use a big black truncheon. At this point Darren runs away.

Mr Kim wants to fire Darren before he completes his last month to avoid paying his airfare and severance pay. He gives Darren a warning letter for arriving one minute late and another for wearing brown shoes. He then tries a different move and fires Mi Hyun. Dating between employees of the same school is forbidden, as it’s written in the contract. However, Mr Kim didn’t care when Darren dated Natalie, but now he sees Mi Hyun’s as a foreigner’s whore, a traitor of the Korean race. Darren is fired too, after slapping Mr Kim’s hat off his head. That starts a fight. Mr Kim beats Darren who is saved by Mi Hyun who smashes a fire extinguisher across the back of his head. Mr Kim wants to call the police, but Jung Won promises to help his friend.

In 2009, Darren and Mi Hyun visit England. Mi Hyun has bought matching blu-and-white striped sailor pullovers and Darren is afraid he will look like a bisexual French submariner. Darren is now working in a Korean public school and he’s going to marry Mi Hyun. His parents are flying back to Korea with him to attend his marriage. In 2015, Darren is still working in Korea and with all the experience he has gained in the meanwhile he can help the new foreign teachers.

White Monkey is a fast-paced book, it’s full of interesting events and I really hope to read more novels written by this author. The title made me think about a thing my husband, who is Mexican, told me when we were still boyfriend and girlfriend. It seems that in some parts of Mexico the locals use the expression “white monkeys” when they talk about Europeans, because we are generally white and hairy, but I think that in this case such title was chosen because, according to the narrator, in Korea white people are often treated like monkeys in a zoo.

I have found some mistakes in White Monkey, such as “ad nauseum” instead of “ad nauseam” or a fake website that sometimes is spelled as “” and others as “”, but the novel is so enjoyable that they don’t spoil the pleasure of reading it. Well done! Well done! Well done! I highly recommend this book!

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