Armchair BEA - Beyond the Borders

I'm incredibly tired as I'm writing this post so hopefully before I post it tomorrow something will make sense to me and I'll be able to write something intelligent (as if)! Unfortunately I wasn't able to join yesterday's Twitter party or really join in on any of the blogging! I will be catching up with all of that today! Expect some major commenting going on!

Beyond the Borders

It’s time to step outside your comfort zone, outside your borders, or outside of your own country or culture. Tell us about the books that transported you to a different world, taught you about a different culture, and/or helped you step into the shoes of someone different from you. What impacted you the most about this book? What books would you recommend to others who are ready or not ready to step over the line? In essence, let’s start the conversation about diversity and keep it going! 

Diversity, yaay! Diversity is an amazing thing! I just wrote a ranty post about how the British Education secretary Michael Gove was apparently considering kicking To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men and The Crucible off the British GCSE syllabus (check out the post for any of this to make sense). Basically I ranted about how literature should be taught exactly because it supports diversity in such an amazing way. A book doesn't judge you, a book allows you to experience something you'd never otherwise encounter and do so at your own pace. Go literature! There is nothing like a book to lift you from your own position and allow you to see through someone else's eyes. I chose my blog name, A Universe in Words, because I wanted to read books from everywhere in the Universe, yes that includes potential future non-terrestrial literature.

A book that really transported me to a different world was Wild Swans by Jung Chang. 

The story of three generations in twentieth-century China that blends the intimacy of memoir and the panoramic sweep of eyewitness history—a bestselling classic in thirty languages with more than ten million copies sold around the world, now with a new introduction from the author.
An engrossing record of Mao’s impact on China, an unusual window on the female experience in the modern world, and an inspiring tale of courage and love, Jung Chang describes the extraordinary lives and experiences of her family members: her grandmother, a warlord’s concubine; her mother’s struggles as a young idealistic Communist; and her parents’ experience as members of the Communist elite and their ordeal during the Cultural Revolution. Chang was a Red Guard briefly at the age of fourteen, then worked as a peasant, a “barefoot doctor,” a steelworker, and an electrician. As the story of each generation unfolds, Chang captures in gripping, moving—and ultimately uplifting—detail the cycles of violent drama visited on her own family and millions of others caught in the whirlwind of history.
This book manages to be historical, beautiful, insightful and educative. I know that's a lot to expect of one book, but this one manages to make it all come true. I really felt like I had learned something about China and its history after reading Wild Swans and it was also just a really interesting read. There were also some really tragic moments and I still haven't forgotten this novel after years of reading it! Not only did it give me real insight into Chinese culture but it was also a great novel about women. 

I also just got accepted for review (on Netgalley) for The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg. I can't wait to read it.

In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated to “dressed up like a boy” in Dari) is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom. 
The Underground Girls of Kabul is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents’ attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults. 
At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America’s longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who present as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.
Honorary mentions goes to The Lynburn Legacy series by Sarah Rees Brennan for featuring a half-Asian main character. Kami Glass is a delightful main character, she's absolutely hilarious.

So, what books transported you?


  1. I bought Wild Swans a couple years ago, and now I'm really bummed that it's currently boxed up in my home in the states instead of with me here in Sweden. For some reason I was putting off reading it, I guess I was afraid I wouldn't like it, and now I'm curious to give it a go.

    1. You definitely should! China's history is so interesting!

  2. Thanks for sharing your insights on this topic, and for introducing me to these two books. Diversity is a hot topic, but oh so important!

  3. The Underground Girls of Kabul sounds fascinating! I'll look forward to your review.

  4. The Underground Girls of Kabul is now on my TBR list. It sounds so interesting.

  5. Indeed I love how a book can make you see the world through different eyes and different perspectives. I don't actively search out diverse books, but if one crosses my path and captures my attention I'll read it.

  6. I so entirely agree. I loved reading Wild Swans some years back, I think nearly everyone in my family read it. I also totally fell in love with To Kill a Mockingbird when I read it.

  7. I loved To Kill a Mockingbird too. I think reading diversity in historical settings is a good thing too. Helps you to understand where the people are coming from. Even reading the folktales can tell you what they historically valued.

  8. I've never heard of these! I'll have to look them up :)

    Thanks for visiting my blog!

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

  9. Hi Juli: Great post - thank you! I've worked a bit in Afghanistan - you might want to check out this amazing project that helps Afghan women write their own stories:

  10. I hadn't heard of either of these books - thanks for stopping by my Beyond Borders post. If you want to check out TimeMasters its best to start with the first book "The Call" which I think might still be only .99 in whatever digital format you prefer. Check out Barnes, Amazon, iBooks whichever device store you use. Those are the three I know for sure she is on. Book 2 "The Prophecy" I believe is supposed to be coming out in early June if dates haven't changed. If you search Geralyn Beauchamp on the digital Bookstores book 1 will come up. She also has a blog and facebook page.

  11. I definitely need to pick up Wild Swans - it sounds like just the type of book I could dive deep into and not come up for days!

    I haven't heard of The Underground Girls of Kabul but it too sounds like one of those that must be read. I did read Malala's autobiography and found myself so incredibly thankful to be born in the United States. Speaking of the girls in Kabul raised/disguised {for a time} as boys - did you know there are cities in Mexico that have the same method to protect their daughters from human trafficking? The online book club I'm a part of read Prayers for the Stolen awhile back that was a fictional account of one of the girls. It's fascinating and tragic and horrifying that two parts of the world so vastly different in culture and geography should share similar treatment of girls. Great post!

  12. I read Wild Swans ages ago. I think I was too young back then to enjoy it.


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