Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 3, 2021

Six Degrees of Separation: from Shuggie Bain, to…

This month’s #6Degrees starts with the 2020 Booker Prize winner, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart.  Just this week I read a review of this which compared it to a thinly disguised misery memoir, evoking memories of Angela’s Ashes.

Maybe there is more to it than that… surely it must be a wonderful book to have edged out The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste? I am loving the books coming from Africa at the moment… Maaza Mengiste is from Ethiopia, but I’ve also come across authors from other countries in Africa who are writing in a similar vein… using historical fiction to rewrite the colonial history of Africa from oral histories passed down in tandem with, but unrecognised by the written record.  These stories feature strong, powerful people, (especially women) who transcend victimhood.

She Would Be King, by Wayétu Moore is a story of Liberia, and features a strong female lead in Gbessa, and—prompted by the search results in the image library in my WordPress account—that takes me to the short story The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling.  Yes, that’s ironic indeed.  Kipling was The Great Imperialist, widely admired as a writer in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and then despised in the era of decolonisation.  He was the first English language winner of the Nobel Prize in 1907, “in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author.”

But Kipling was also a father, one who surely came to rue his scorn for ‘shirkers’ which led to sacrificing his only son John to the Great War, wangling a commission for him despite his poor eyesight.  John died on his first day in the trenches, at the Battle of Loos in September 1915, at the age  of18.  In a poem written after the war, Kipling wrote “If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied.” (See Epitaphs of the War, at The Poetry Foundation).

There are so many books written about war, occupation and its aftermath: I’ve reviewed 166 books in this category, and still they keep coming.  The most recent one I read was The Invisible Land by the late Hubert Mingarelli set during the Occupation of postwar Germany and exploring how dehumanisation can take hold, and I’m currently finishing off a review of Baho! by Roland Rugero, translated by Chris Schaefer which is set in postwar Burundi after the genocide.  It shows the fragility of peace after war, and how the years of violence can erupt over simple misunderstandings.

Thinking of misunderstandings… for the forthcoming 1936 Club at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings co-hosted with Simon at Stuck in a Book, I’m reading Rebecca West’s The Thinking Reed. It is, as Wikipedia says, about the corrupting influence of wealth even on originally decent people, but this critique is also an amusing analysis of the ways in which human beings deceive themselves and one another with misunderstandings that are not simple at all.

I’m also reading The Lonely Century by Noreena Hertz (see my report of the author in conversation at the Adelaide Writers Week) in which she unpacks the misunderstandings that arise in the digital world because we cannot ‘read’ the facial and expressions and body language of those with whom we interact.

As usual, I’m reading too many books at once!

Next month’s starter book is Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary.

Thanks to Kate at Books are my Favourite and Best for hosting:)


  1. Straight to Africa! Excellent. I don’t know any of these books and sadly, I’ve only read a very few books by African writers. I’d like to read more.


  2. Barry Jones wrote a memoir called ‘The Thinking Reed’. I have this rather old-fashioned idea that there should be a copyright on book titles. Obviously, it doesn’t apply because there are many books that share a title.


    • Yes, true.
      I went to an author talk with Barry Jones at the Woodend Winter Arts Festival, when his Thinking Reed was published. *Blush* I still have it, unread, on the shelf.
      They both used this idea, from Pascal’s Pensees

      “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water, suffices to kill him. But if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.”

      PS Was it your review of Shuggie that I read? It must have been!


  3. You have linked some interesting books there, I’d be interested in any of them. I see you are Lisa from “Read the Nobels”, so I’m sure we “talked” before.

    Anyway, it was lovely going through your list.

    My Six Degrees of Separation led me to Dreams of a Red Chamber by Xuequin Cao.


    • Hello Marianne, nice to see you here:)
      I can’t ‘like’ a Blogger post, but I was interested to see the book by Ildefonso Falcones, I’ve read The Hand of Fatima, is that part of the trilogy?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, Blogger doesn’t do “likes”. :-( And some other stuff. Just talked to someone else who had trouble with it. And I just changed who can comment, so hopefully that will help.

        Anyway, I wasn*t aware of a trilogy. So far, he’s only written a duology, “The Cathedral of the Sea” follwed by “The Heirs of the Earth (which hasn’t been translated into English, so far, but I hope it will one day). They are both about Barcelona, the first about the building of a cathedral in the 14th century, the next one 200 years later.

        “The Hand of Fatima” is about the muslims in Spain in the 17th century but the book is just as great as the others. If you liked that one, you will also love his others.


  4. Excellent! Look forward to your thoughts on the West! :D


    • I’m still not sure what to make of it. I’ve only ever read her NF which is, as you know, very serious indeed. Because of the title, I was expecting something quite serious in the novel too…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve only read a little of her fiction – The Return of the Solder is quite brilliant – but it’s oddly her non-fiction I’m most drawn to.


        • Yes, I think the same, it’s the power and clarity of her thinking that is so impressive.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. You’ve reminded me that I have Maaza Mengiste’s book on my wishlist, Liz, and now I’ve added Wayétu Moore’s book, too. I’m interested in knowing more about Baho! as well. I don’t know anything about Burundi’s history.

    Great chain!


    • My apologies for not noticing the replacement of Lisa with Liz, by the way. My Saturday finger must have missed the a off the end.


      • No worries:)
        I didn’t know there was a genocide in Burundi too, which makes me feel a bit ashamed… but we can only know what the media tells us, and the Australian media is so biased towards the US and the UK, we often have no idea what’s happening anywhere else. At the moment we are drowning in C_19 news, but we don’t have a clue about how any of the countries in Africa are coping with it.


  6. Great chain Lisa – I haven’t read Shuggie Bain and if I’m honest, it doesn’t really appeal to me!


    • Nor to me, but that might just be the mood I’m in at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I am amazed by how many books you read. All of these sound interesting. I didn’t know Kipling lost a son. I like his writing.


    • He wouldn’t have been the only parent who white-feathered his son into enlisting.
      I don’t know what gets into people, I really don’t….

      Liked by 1 person

      • I always think .it might be some displaced ideal of patriotism at all costs.


        • As the mother of a son, I breathed a huge sigh of relief at the retirement of the politicians who introduced conscription for the Vietnam war. I never trusted them not to do the same thing again for equally spurious reasons.


  8. It’s impossible to ignore the similarities between Shuggie and Angela but… but… I LOVED both books so I wonder if it matters much?! (That said, there are some differences and in many ways, Shuggie’s childhood is far more traumatic than Frank’s). Shuggie was my first five-star read this year, and I’ve thought a lot about it since (particularly after seeing a photo essay of Glasgow in the eighties – unbelievably grim).


    • AH well, that’s the thing, I was not keen on Angela, and as for the film, I can’t remember why we went to see it, but I remember The Spouse saying afterwards that it was a very ‘damp’ film. It even rained *inside* the house.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I really need to read The Shadow King… some interesting & very diverse books in your chain, Lisa, as per usual.


    • It’s just the way my mind flits from one topic to another…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Interesting list Lisa. I haven’t heard of a few of those novels but I enjoyed your links. I would love to read more African books.

    I was going to comment the same as Janine, but she beat me to it. (I too have Jones’ book on my shelves unread.)


  11. […] ago. It was longlisted for the Booker last year, and a recent mention of the book on Lisa’s Six Degrees chain for April that reminded me that I still hadn’t read […]


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